Figure Skating

Brighter days lie ahead for You Young a year after Lausanne 2020 gold

The South Korean won Youth Olympic Games figure skating gold last year, but has suffered disappointment this season.

By ZK Goh ·

On 13 January 2020, You Young landed a triple Axel en route to winning the Winter Youth Olympic Games ladies' figure skating gold medal in Lausanne.

In the year since, the South Korean has been through ups and downs including a crisis of nerves and confidence that affected her at her only Grand Prix outing of the season.

Now, with the Korean national championships also having been postponed, we ask what's next for You?

Star in Lausanne

In Lausanne, the then-15-year-old was the final competitor to perform in the free skate and knew exactly what she needed to do.

You, whose idol is her compatriot and Olympic champion Yuna Kim, led after the short program and was hot favourite going into the final two days later.

Russian skaters had won the event at both previous Games – Innsbruck 2012 (Elizaveta Tuktamysheva) and Lillehammer 2016 (Polina Tsurskaya) – and You was looking to stop Kseniia Sinitsyna and Anna Frolova from making it three in a row.

The Korean told Olympic Channel that Kim, the Vancouver 2010 gold medallist and Sochi 2014 runner-up, was her inspiration to take up figure skating as a child.

"I feel like she’s a really big sister to me," she admitted.

But her shyness around Kim didn't transfer to the ice, on which she was magnificent. Her free skate opened with a triple Axel and included seven other triple jumps as she broke the Russian run of gold medals.

Four Continents medal success

You's strong season – which included a bronze medal at the 2019 Skate Canada and a fourth place in her other Grand Prix appearance at the Cup of China – continued barely a month later at the Four Continents Championships in her hometown Seoul.

In front of a boisterous home crowd – in one of the last figure skating events held with fans before the global pandemic – You placed herself in medal contention despite errors in her short program, including stepping out of her triple Axel and losing points on spins and her step sequence.

However, she bounced back strongly in the free skate the day after, edging out American Bradie Tennell to win silver behind champion Kihira Rika. She landed the triple Axel cleanly and also pulled off a fine triple Lutz, triple toe loop combination which she had also shone on the previous day.

"I was very happy to do the triple Axel and then there were no mistakes in my jumps," she told ISU after that event. "Especially since this event was held in Korea I had a little pressure.

"I'm the first Korean skater to have a medal since Yuna Kim and I feel very honoured to be first since her and to achieve this in my home country."

You's attention then turned to the World Championships, having been passed over selection for the Junior Worlds in favour of competing at the senior event in Montreal, Canada.

The pandemic hits

You would have been South Korea's best hope of a strong ladies' showing at the Worlds in Montreal. However, the increasing spread of Covid-19 around the world led the ISU to cancel that event in the week leading up to it.

That ended You's season, with her looking forward to 2020/21 with what appeared to be a spring in her step.

In July, the ISU announced that it would cancel the Junior Grand Prix season; a month later it announced that the senior Grand Prix season would be held as regional, not international, events.

With skaters limited to one Grand Prix instead of two to cut down on travel, You was assigned to the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan in November.

On paper, this was good for her – the only skater to out-do her overall at Four Continents, Kihira, was assigned to the Internationaux de France (later cancelled) in Grenoble due to its proximity to her training base in Switzerland.

But things didn't quite work out as planned for the Korean.

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NHK Trophy struggles

You, the only skater not representing Japan in any of the three disciplines – men's, ladies', and ice dance – at the NHK Trophy, seemed full of nerves as she took to the ice for the short program.

The Korean had not participated in a single competition since the Four Continents nine and a half months earlier, and it showed.

Errors on all three of her jumping elements, including falls on her triple Axel and triple Lutz, left a visibly-disappointed You in a shock last place. "It was my first competition of the season so I think I was more nervous than usual," she admitted afterwards.

It was a case of "the yips" – failure to do a seemingly-easy task that one has trained for. You said: "I had a lot of mistakes and I panicked a little. It was a really weird performance. After my triple Axel I was in a deep panic. I didn't know how to jump."

You recovered somewhat the following day in her free skate to pull herself up to seventh overall, despite under-rotating three jumps. She looked more at ease with herself, and later said she had had too many nerves on herself to perform in the short.

"It felt more like practice," You said. "I learned a lot from this competition. It's kind of different from last year because I was not practicing all the time (due to Covid).

"From this competition I started feeling like how I competed last year, like the feeling of performing before the audience."

Perhaps foretelling what was to come, she noted that if other competitions later in the season were to be cancelled, "this could be my only chance to perform in another country (this season)."

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Bouncing back

While You said right after the NHK Trophy that she would turn her attention to the South Korean national championships and national team trials, that opportunity for a quick bounce-back from the disappointment in Osaka ultimately fell foul to the pandemic.

With the skater still serving her two-week quarantine after returning to Korea from Japan, the Korean Ice Skating Federation announced on 8 December that the championships, originally set for 8–10 January 2021 in Seoul, were postponed indefinitely.

Additionally, February's Four Continents Championships in Sydney, Australia, have been cancelled for months.

This leaves South Korea's team for March's World Championships, should they go ahead as planned in Stockholm, Sweden, up in the air. You is the second-ranked Korean ladies' singles skater on the ISU's world standings list behind Lim Eun-soo. With the country allowed two skaters in that event, should the Korean nationals not be held beforehand, You is well-placed to be selected.

It has been a difficult year for You, but her strong 2019/20 season suggests that this season – with all its complications and caveats – was an outlier for the 16-year-old. And it's worth remembering that she doesn't turn 17 until May.

With the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games a year away, You still has time to regain her best form, if she can deal with her nerves after a lack of competition for so long.

There are brighter days to come for this young star.

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4 - 20 Feb 2022

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