Dramatic Men’s Reversal and Lots of Ladies at Korean Nationals
Jun-Hwan Cha beats June-Hyoung Lee by enough to snatch the Olympic berth up; Young You wins the gold while Da-Bin Choi and Hanul Kim win the berths.
Although it is also the main determinant for who goes to for the Junior and Senior World Championships, this week’s South Korean National Championships in Seoul actually weren’t expected to change the outcome of the Olympic race. That, after all, had been conducted over two events already, and the frontrunners had such big leads it looked unlikely anyone would make them up. But so long as there’s more than one contender, one can never count a qualifying event until it’s been skated and scored. Lack of other contenders did make the pairs and ice dance berths easy, and after the thirty-three senior ladies had skated, those two berths had gone as projected. But when the nine senior men took the ice, the resulting competition gave that crazy saga one last twist.
June-Hyoung Lee started the week looking good for the Olympic berth he’d earned South Korea at Nebelhorn. The first two qualifiers had given him a nearly twenty-eight-point lead over would-be favorite Jun-Hwan Cha. But after half a year of struggling with injuries, Cha has recovered at last, and it showed. His short was flawless. His free wasn’t too far off. He did underrotate his one attempt at a quadruple jump there, but when he returned to his Il Postino free from last season, he reminded up all why he’ll likely be the next big thing out of Korea:
June-Hyuong Lee’s troubles started in the short, where he slipped and fell on his triple axel to come in over seven points behind. He barely held off Jin-Seo Kim, who stumbled on his loop. Then in the free, Lee fell on it again, then another time on a salchow, then doubled a lutz. When Kim, meanwhile, did his free about as well as he could’ve done it, lower presentation scores didn’t stop him from actually beating Lee for the silver. Kim was far enough behind in Olympic qualifying for that not to matter, but more vitally, Lee lost twenty-two points more to Cha, and with them, the Olympic berth. He still took bronze, but Cha, as everyone originally expected back in the summer, is two-time champion and will be the home star at the Olympics after all.
Although as of right now, only the Olympic team has been announced, it’s a safe bet Cha will also be headed to Worlds. The two Junior World berths will likely go to Sihyeong Lee and Young Hyun Cha, who finished fourth and fifth. In a competition where no one outside the top three landed a clean triple axel, Lee skated two clean programs without one. Cha also went without and skated a clean free, which helped him come back from a fall in his short.
For the third year in a row, the ladies title went to a girl too young for senior international competition, with Young You winning her second. As is usual at Korean events, the senior ladies short was an impressive show. The top seven all landed everything including triple-triple combinations, six of them doing the triple lutz-triple toe. But after nailing their shorts, You and silver medalist Da-Bin Choi were the only top ladies to nail their free skates as well. The only one to do her triple lutz-triple toe in the back half of her long, You had the advantage of Choi both technically and artistically. But Choi, another skater who went back to her free last year, was not without triple-triple or beauty herself, and with the silver, she won the Olympic qualifying race in style.
Initially Choi had been behind two more underage ladies, with Eunsoo Lim also nailing her short and Ye-Lim Kim also having a good one, albeit with wobbles on her closing axel and spin. And while Lim opened her free with her triple-triple, backloading more of her other jumps actually gave her the highest technical tariff by a smidge. But she wasn’t doing the jumps as well, especially when she fell on a double axel-triple toe and nearly fell on a loop. She was fourth in the segment, but held on for bronze, and presumably the second spot on the Junior World team alongside You.
Ye-Lim Kim tried to do a free with a similar technical setup. But she had three jumps go wrong and two hard falls in her back half. Eighth in the segment, she dropped to sixth, though she ended up still ahead of she who had been third in the segment! Ji Hun To, one of Korea’s lesser juniors, had been eleventh in the short, but she skated a very good free. Her opening triple-triple of choice was the triple flip-triple toe, and she landed everything except the lutz in her three-jump, which she underrotated.
So-Youn Park, the one with the easier triple salchow-triple toe in her short, initially beat Hanul Kim, who was stronger technically, but had the lowest presentation scores of the top sixth. But even then it was by less than a point, which was of little use when Kim was far ahead of her in the Olympic qualifying race. Then in her free, Park went for only three triples harder than a salchow, underrotated two of them, and fell on one of those. Kim had her triple-triple and more hard jumps, even when she underrotated and fell on a flip. It was close again, but ultimately Hanul Kim sealed up the second spot to the Olympics and likely Worlds with fourth, edging out Park and Ye-Lim Kim both.
There were only five junior men, among whom Han-Gil Kim was doing the most technical content. That made it easy for him to win even when he fell twice in his free skate, and also bumped into the boards and knocked loose half an advertising banner! There were a whopping 52 junior ladies. But among all their skates, the only triple-triple was the triple flip-triple toe Seo-Young Wi landed in her short. That was only a triple-double in her free, where she instead relied on an double axel-triple toe and triple lutz three-jump. When she more or less landed those and everything else, she too won easily.
There was a senior pairs competition and senior and junior ice dance competitions, but each had only one entry, and the junior ice dance team were not terribly impressive. Senior ice dance team Yura Min & Alexander Gamelin themselves weren’t at their technically sharpest while claiming their second straight title, especially in their free dance twizzles. But this wasn’t where they needed to be to earn that Olympic berth; here, they just needed to show up one last time.
Kyueun Kim & Kangchan Kam, the last pair left standing after two others broke up in recent months, thus claimed their first ever national title. They did themselves credit by managing a clean short, with side by side triple salchows, though the rest of their technical content was easier. South Korea didn’t properly qualify an Olympic berth in pairs, but they got granted a host berth last month. Some politicians may talk of a merged Korean team which would probably see North Korean team Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim sent instead. But in all probability, if North Korea goes, they’ll field a separate team, and Kim & Kam will remain the host entry.