Yuna Kim's Les Miserables: To the road of Camelot
Legends are where our dream becomes real.
People we label as "legends" are people with extraordinary achievement that is timeless. By calling them legends, we are paying a homage, perhaps, not to them but to what they possessed that seems to defy the boundary of commonalities.
Especially in figure skating history, past does not mean obsolete or outmoded. On the contrary, the greatest time for figure skating was the 1970s. Ever since, figure skating largely degenerated despite jumps were upgraded to triples.
It was mainly due to the fact that the original form of figure skating heavily rooted in "compulsories" was modified, and that changed everything.
At the center of that historic turn stood a giant skater. It was Janet Lynn. It was Lynn's aestheticism in her skating that made people realize what figure skating is all about, and how its ideal can be manifested.
Change was inevitable. The old compulsories were nothing but a shadow of what is to come, if you like Messianic dramas. Compulsories are fundamental skills, but they are not the goal.
They are basic tools serving free skating.
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Janet Lynn in 1968
Commentary on Lynn at 14
This is from the description of the footage above. You can see how Lynn was seen by her contemporary.
At the microphone: the 1948 Olympic runner-up Eva Pawlik. Pawlik underlined in her commentary Janet Lynn´s enormous artistic abilities. I [the youtube uploader] was asked to translate my mother´s commentary for the non German speaking audience:
"Though participating for the first time at Olympics or Worlds Janet Lynn is well known to us. Last year, she did some training in Switzerland (Davos) and then came to Vienna where the Worlds took place. Lynn did not participate but showed her free program at a skating exhibition in Vienna. We were all deeply impressed by the enormous artistic abilities of the then 13-year-old girl.
She is extremely fit. When practising she skates her free programme three times non-stop without getting tired. These 12 minutes are by far longer than a normal free programme at the men´s events which lasts 5 minutes.
Delayed axel. Double axel. Double flip. Inside axel (in German the sort of axel landed on the inside edge is called inside axel). Double lutz. Triple salchow, though not perfect (but nevertheless - after the sounding of Pawlik´s voice when mentioning it - a small sensation).
Her greatness is her style (special emphasis on the word „style" in the sounding of Pawlik´s voice). Other young skaters may be technically brilliant as well but it is the charisma they lack. Lynn, however, though only 14 years old, has already developed her artistic abilities almost completely. Double salchow.
Perhaps Peggy Fleming is Lynn´s role model as Fleming also skates remarkably fluently. Lynn is skating in a certain sense undemonstratively, without using her arms and hands to be able to overcome technical difficulties as other skaters tend to do. Double axel and double loop (in German: Rittberger) as a combination. Double toe-loop. Double lutz. Flying sit spin.
In the end of her commentary Pawlik once again underlined Lynn´s ease and effortlessness in her skating and admired Janet showing several walley jumps - in both directions! - and one more double axel even in the very ending of her program. An outstanding free skating!"
Lynn's moves on ice are simply unreal even in today's standard.
Janet Lynn in 1969
Trixi Shuba in 1972
Legends in the 70s
Competition results are critical in evaluating skaters, but in limited sense. Sometimes, something not related to the sport could determine the result of competition. Think about Sochi. But in Lynn's time, what kept her from winning was not corruption or fraud; it was sport itself.
Lynn wasn't cut out for compulsories. But that's exactly what she needed to win.
Trixi Shuba, a great champion in compulsory era, was a name to remember. She competed with Lynn and always won, and her win over Lynn was indisputably legitimate. It's fair to say she was the best skater of the world at the time.
But if you look at her free skating, you will know that Shuba's skating skill was far inferior to Lynn's. You will marvel at how far ahead Lynn's skating was compared to Shuba's; while Lynn appeared a skater with technical mastery while Shuba a skater of just junior level.
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Yuna Kim in 2013: This amazing performance will be remembered as Kim's greatest piece in many aspects
Is Kim qualified?
Some may think it's too early to include Yuna Kim into the line of legends. But I beg to defer.
Of course, there will be a time when triple becomes archaic. There will be a time when we see more masterful skaters than Kim. That's a given. But suffice it to say that Kim is more than just qualified. Kim may not be a skater whose edge is as deep and solid as legends in the 70s. Kim may not be as masterful in degree of bodily freedom as her predecessors.
But Kim's deficiency, compared to her legendary predecessors, has to do with time. Since Lynn, figure skating has dramatically changed. Today, no skater practices compulsory. Kim's skating has been molded by today's skating and its standards, especially characterized by triple jumps. If Kim were born in the 70s, she could have followed the path of her predecessors.
Moreover Kim's exceptionality does not lie in her jump technique alone. Her signature spin, and sit spin, versality, proficient moves and musical interpretation are all indicatives of her reservoir of talent that sets her apart.