Kim Yu-na becoming anxious ahead of 2018 vote
SEOUL, South Korea (AP)
Kim Yu-na sits in a room among the sleek skyscrapers of Seoul, overlooking a green oasis where kings and queens were laid to rest centuries ago but focusing her thoughts on unseen, distant peaks.
The Olympic figure skating gold medalist is considered something of a living treasure in South Korea.
While soccer player Park Ji-sung was described as 'The King of Korea' when his Manchester United teammates saw for themselves the reception he received in Seoul in 2009, there was no such belated revelation for Kim. She was affectionally dubbed ''Queen Yu-na'' well before she clinched gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics with a stunning, record-breaking performance.
The only thing perhaps that could make her more popular would be to help bring the 2018 Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang.
Pyeongchang, in South Korea's northeast, has come heartbreakingly close twice in the past, winning the first round of voting for the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games before ultimately losing to Vancouver and then the Russian resort of Sochi.
Now Munich and Annecy, France are vying with Pyeongchang to host the 2018 Winter Games. But this time the 20-year-old Kim is an official ambassador and is giving the bid her full focus ahead of a July 6 vote in Durban, South Africa, where IOC will decide on the host.
''This is all I am thinking about at the moment, I am practicing every day,'' Kim tells The Associated Press. She's not talking about a new routine but the presentation she will make to the IOC in Durban, one last pitch before voting begins.
She has already done one meet-and-greet for the bid with IOC members, at Lausanne in May.
''When I was there, I felt that all Korea was on my shoulders,'' she said in an interview with the AP. ''Usually, I am competing for myself but this is not only for me, it is a huge thing. I felt a different pressure. I was so nervous before the presentation, even more than when I compete.''
Perhaps it is the fact that Korean expectations have been a constant companion since she made her senior international debut in 2006 that Kim seems to handle it so well.
Matter-of-fact and modest in her manner, polite and friendly in her conversation, she was a natural candidate to help Pyeongchang's bid.
If the pressure is constant and the work hard, the rewards are considerable. In Korea, she hosts her own reality television show, ''Kiss and Cry,'' a kind of dancing with the stars on ice.
She advertises a whole range of products from air conditioners to cosmetics, she is the subject of numerous documentaries and is responsible not only for an explosion in the number of young ice skaters in the country but also newborn babies named Yu-na.
''There are a lot of great young kids in Korean skating and also other winter sports and it would be great for them if the Olympics come to Korea,'' she said. ''When they bid for the 2010 Games, I was hoping that they would make it as 2010 would be my first Olympics, but they failed then, and then again for 2014. I really want Pyeongchang to do it finally.''
Even without the impetus that the games would provide, South Korea is a growing power in the world of winter sports. Only the United States, Canada, Germany and Norway collected more gold medals in Vancouver.
''Winter sports here have improved a lot. We won 14 medals in Vancouver and that was the best result ever,'' she said. ''When I was younger, our success was mostly in short-track but now there is a lot more figure skating and also speed skaters. It is good to see.
''There are a lot (of athletes) but we only have a few ice rinks. We still don't have enough training facilities, venues or ice rinks. If we make it, it will mean a lot of venues for the athletes and really help the sport.''
It could even have the same affect on other potential stars in Asia as the Nagano Olympics - the last held on the continent - had on Kim. She recalls how she had started skating at the local ice rink with her family at the age of five before her natural talent was spotted by a coach.
Soon after, she knew what she wanted to do. ''I watched the 1998 Games in Japan and I saw Michelle Kwan and I loved her and her performance even though she didn't win the gold,'' Kim said. ''I was inspired by her and had a dream about the Olympics. That became my goal. Sometimes I have the chance to skate with her in my show. It is great to do something with my role model.''
She has a rival in her role for the Pyeongchang bid.
Katarina Witt, the 1984 and 1988 Olympic champion, is now the figurehead of the Munich bid, which is considered the greatest threat to Pyeongchang.
The pair never had the chance to meet in competition on the ice, but that won't prevent a friendly rivalry surrounding the IOC voting in South Africa.
''I think it is very interesting that two figure skaters are involved in each country. It's a great honor to meet her; the first time was in Vancouver,'' Kim said. ''I watched her skating. She is a legendary skater and everyone remembers her performances.''
One will be disappointed on July 6, and Kim is not accustomed to losing.
Since her Olympic triumph, Kim has spent more time skating in her own gala shows than competing. She split with longtime coach Brian Orser last summer, skipped the Grand Prix season and then finished second at the world championships in April for a second straight year.
As she stood on the podium, Kim wept, tears not seen since her triumph in Vancouver.
''The crying was not because of not winning,'' Kim explained. ''I don't know why I cried. I think I was a little happy when I finished it as I had had a tough time in the competition. Especially if I fall in the beginning of the program, I feel really bad. I want to quit but you have to keep going and stay focused.''
That's one lesson she doesn't need to impart to the bidders from Pyeongchang.