VANCOUVER — Kim Yu-na put one hand to her mouth and let the tears flow.
All that pressure, so many expectations. The "Queen" took it all on and delivered royally.
The South Korean won the Olympic gold medal Thursday night, soaring to a world-record 228.56 points and shattering her previous mark by more than 18 points. It may go down as one of the greatest performances in figure skating history, and it's sure to set off wild celebrations from Seoul to Pyongchang. It's South Korea's first medal at the Winter Olympics in a sport other than speedskating.
Even Kim seemed to be dazzled by the show she put on, gasping when she saw the monstrous score. Coach Brian Orser gave a Rocky-like victory pump, shaking his clasped fists over each shoulder.
Longtime rival Mao Asada of Japan won the silver medal, but it was no contest — even with Asada landing both her triple Axels, one in combination with a double toe loop. Joannie Rochette, skating four days after the sudden death of her mother, won the bronze, giving Canada its first women's medal since Liz Manley's silver in 1988.
The Americans, meanwhile, are going home without at least one medal for only the second time since 1952. The other time? 1964, three years after a plane crash wiped out the entire U.S. team on its way to the world championships.
Mirai Nagasu was fourth while U.S. champion Rachael Flatt dropped to seventh.
Kim came in bearing almost incomprehensible pressure. Not only was the reigning world champ the biggest favorite since Katarina Witt in 1988 — she's lost just one competition over the last two seasons — she carried the weight of an entire nation on her slim shoulders.
The most popular athlete in South Korea, she's been dubbed "Queen Yu-na" — check out the sparkly crowns that twinkle in her ears — and she needs bodyguards whenever she returns home from her training base in Toronto. Anything she does creates a frenzy, and even a simple practice draws a rinkful of photographers.
Kim seemed to shrug it all off earlier this week, saying after the short program that it felt like any other competition.
There were simply no flaws in Kim performance, from her skating to her expressions to that lovely cobalt blue dress. While other skaters slow down as they approach their jumps to steady themselves, she hurtles into them at full speed yet touches down with pillow-like softness. Her connecting steps are like art on ice, and her edge quality is so fine there is not even the slightest hint of a harsh scrape, just the sound of her crisp edge. Her spins are centered so perfectly the tracings look as if they were made with a protractor, and she's got to be quadruple-jointed with all the positions she manages in her combination spins.
But what really makes her transcendent is her performance skills. She breathed life into Gershwin's "Concerto in F," moving across the ice like notes on a score. As the music lifted the first time, she put one hand on the small of her back and gave a flirty little smile that set shutters clicking throughout the building.
When she finished, you could almost see the pressure fall away as Kim bent over and cried. The tears fell no matter how hard she tried to blink them back, and she held up her hands helplessly when she reached Orser. So many stuffed toys and flowers littered the ice the full complement of sweepers had to be deployed — not once, but twice.
It almost wasn't fair that Asada, skating next, had to try and one-up that.