VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- After the brilliance of the short program, it was hard to imagine there wouldn't be a letdown. How could South Korea's
Yet, somehow, it wasn't the anticlimax we feared. No, it wasn't as extraordinary a night as Tuesday's short had been, but it was almost everything the 11,700 spectators in the Pacific Coliseum hoped it would be. Kim's brilliance was, again, unparalleled, and she put herself squarely atop any list of the greatest Olympic champions of all time. Skating first of the three medalists, Queen Kim set a standard the others could not hope to reach, shattering every record and winning every heart in her path. Skating to Gershwin's
Knowing her most difficult elements were behind her, Kim was able to fully emote the final minute of the program, holding her head at an expressive tilt, her arms fluttering weightlessly at her side like strips of ribbon in the wind. The audience was on its feet as soon as she pumped her fists in the air in an unusual display of emotion after her final, rollicking spin. And as she bowed to the crowd in appreciation, to her own surprise tears of joy came into her eyes. The judges saw it the same way everyone else did, giving her an eye-popping 150.06 points: 16.11 higher than her previous free skating record. Including the 78.50 she'd earned in her short program -- also a record -- Kim shattered her own world record with a total of 228.56 points. "I still can't believe the score I received," said Kim, the first Korean to win a figure skating medal of any kind. "I predicted my score would probably be 140. It's almost as high as the men's score."
The total was way beyond anyone's reach. So with Kim's gold secure, the only question remaining was who would win silver and bronze. Japan's Asada, the only woman to beat Kim in the last two years (she'd done so twice) was the next to skate, and she held just a 2.42 point lead over Rochette. But Asada had a very big weapon that no one else in the field had: the triple axel, and she was poised to use it twice.
Skating to the dark, brooding strains of Rachmaninov's
Now it was Rochette's turn to take the ice. Again, as had happened in the short program, the crowd cheered long and loudly when her name was announced, but this time there wasn't just support and sympathy in its tone. There was belief and encouragement she could, despite everything, hold herself together and win a medal.
That belief grew when the 24-year-old Rochette landed her opening triple lutz-double toe loop-double loop combination. It was perfect. But then the emotional strain of the last four days began to take its toll. She stumbled on her very next jump, a triple flip, and also received negative grades of execution on a subsequent triple lutz and a double axel. But Rochette didn't fall, and, more importantly, she didn't fall to pieces. "I still don't know how I could do this and not start crying before the music starts," Rochette said later. "I was so proud of not only my performance but of the way I was able to control my emotions. I was able to compete and that's what my mom taught me. I gave everything I had in that program tonight. At the end, I was so empty. I had no energy left. I thanked my mom for the strength she gave me."
Rochette's marks were good, but not quite enough to catch Asada. She scored 131.28 for her free skate, just 2.96 points behind Asada. The only skater who stood behind her and the bronze was the young American, 16-year-old
And Nagasu gave the pro-Rochette crowd a start, because she skated beautifully, landing all six of her triples without a negative grade of execution or a downgrade -- something she wasn't able to do at U.S. Nationals, or she would have won. Her spins were exquisite, as was her double axel-triple toe combination (Kim did one, too: it's a very cool jump) and her spiral sequence. The clean performance pulled Nagasu up from sixth place to fourth, but still more than twelve points shy of Rochette's bronze-winning total of 202.64. It marked the first time since 1964 that a U.S. woman didn't medal in singles skating at the Olympics, but it also put Nagasu squarely in the spotlight for the next quadrennium. Said Nagasu, "I think my best years are still to come."
So the night ended the way it began: Kim in first; Asada second; Rochette third. Kim's coach,
For Asada, she could take away a piece of history with her silver medal: three clean triple axels in two programs, an Olympic first.
And Rochette? Vancouver will always be a bittersweet remembrance for her. But it might, had things gone differently, been simply a bitter one. "When I got the bronze, it was like I was five years old again, pretending to be on the podium winning an Olympic medal. I remember watching the Olympics for the first time with my parents-with my mom. In 1994. The dream started with my mom. We shared it together. "