Kim Yuna wins gold; Joannie Rochette wins bronze, hearts

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By Pritha Sarkar

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Kim Yuna dissolved into tears after she obliterated the opposition to become the first South Korean to win an Olympic figure skating gold medal, while a grieving Joannie Rochette melted millions of hearts with a display of sheer courage.

The 19-year-old, already hailed as Queen Yuna by her legion of admirers, had hollering fans rushing down the aisles after she was crowned Vancouver Games champion with a record combined total of 228.56. She won with a huge margin of 23.06 points.

"This was the first time I cried after an event. I didn't know why but I was so happy," said Yuna, already one of the top earning Olympians after banking more than $8 million in 2009.

"I still cannot believe that I received those scores, it's almost as close as the men's score," added Yuna, whose score would have placed her ninth in the men's event.

Japanese rival Mao Asada soared high into the air to become the only woman to land two triple Axels at the Pacific Coliseum on Thursday but could not match the technical wizardry, artistry or poise of Yuna and settled for silver with 205.5.

Rochette had Canadians and fans all over the world cheering for her after delivering a display full of grace, beauty and guts to earn the bronze just four days after her mother's death.

"I do not see myself as a hero. When I stepped on to the ice I knew I had to be as cold as possible," said the Canadian, who bit her lip and blinked back tears during the medal ceremony.

"It was almost like a relief going on the ice. I needed to be in a state of mind where I was Joannie the athlete and not Joannie the person. I was shaking but I knew that I would leave everything on that ice.

"I stepped on the ice and my legs were shaking. My mum was there with me for every step ... giving me strength."


Born 20 days apart, Yuna and Asada have been rivals since the moment they first laced up their skates and for the second time in three days, the two teenagers brought traffic to a standstill in South Korea and Japan.

But it was Yuna who showed nerves of steel from the moment she landed her opening triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination.

Wearing an electric blue halter-neck dress, she took to the ice after doing the sign of the cross and almost appeared to be floating on water as she beautifully executed every one of her 11 jumps to the haunting backdrop of Gershwin's Concerto in F.

While roaring fans saluted her performance by proclaiming "Long live Queen Yuna", the Korean started shaking with emotion and with tears running down her cheeks, she covered her face.

The dozens of white teddy bears that started to rain down on the ice bore testament to the performance she had just delivered and the judges wasted little time in posting their verdict -- a record 150.06 points for the long program.

Asada had been on the ice to hear the frenzied commotion greet Yuna's score and the pressure got to her as she stumbled on her triple flip-double toeloop combination. Her glum face at the end of the program told its own story.

"Because there was so much noise I was not able to hear her score but I realized she must have had a very good score to get that type of reaction," said Asada.

Rochette, 24, knew no matter what she did, this would be a night she would never forget.

Although she had a few wobbles in her four-minute routine, as far as the crowd was concerned -- her performance under such emotional stress was worth pure gold. She scored 202.64.

She ended her Samson and Delilah routine by blowing a kiss skywards and while she was all smiles as she took her bow, she finally broke down backstage while speaking to reporters.

"With all that had happened I did not have enough strength out there. I had no more inside me but my mom was lifting me up," said a teary-eyed Rochette, an only child who was seen mouthing the words "Salut mama" in the kiss and cry booth.

"There were moments (in the past days) I just wanted to go home and be with my family, take care of my dad."

(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Sonia Oxley, editing by Jon Bramley)