Lee Hae-in started the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships on the right foot on Wednesday, finishing second with 73.62 points in the women’s short program in Saitama, Japan.
The 17-year-old Korean skater ranks in second place in the women’s singles event as of Thursday, right behind reigning world champion and 2022 Olympics bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, who earned 79.24 points on the same day.
Lee’s 73.62 points mark her career personal best.
Lee has a chance of securing Korea’s first medal in the competition since 2013, assuming she maintains her momentum in the free skate on Friday evening — the skaters who have the highest combined points from the short program and free skating medal in the end.
“This is my first time in Japan,” Lee was quoted as saying after the short program. “I wanted to skate here after watching the World Championships held at Saitama Super Arena in 2019 on TV. I am happy that I performed well here.
“I never imagined that I would get into the medal zone and I was only thinking about how many points I could get.”
Lee saw a huge improvement from her performance in last year’s World Championships short program, where she earned 64.16 points and ultimately finished the event in seventh place.
She arrived in Japan at the end of a hugely successful season, having topped the podium at the prestigious Four Continents Figure Skating Championships last month.
Countrywoman Kim Ye-lim, on the other hand, ended the short program in 17th place with 60.02 points after falling early in her routine. The mistake will likely cost Kim any chance of medaling in Japan, an unfortunate mistake as she has also been enjoying a particularly successful season, joining Lee on the podium in second place at the Four Continents.
The only Korean skater to have medaled at the World Championships was Kim Yuna, who earned two bronzes in 2007 and 2008, two silvers in 2010 and 2011 and two golds in 2009 and 2013.
The highest a Korean skater has reached since Kim Yuna is a fifth-place finish by You Young last year. You is not competing this year due to failing to secure a place in the national squad.
Kim Chae-yeon, who finished in fourth-place at this year’s Four Continents, also skated on Wednesday, finishing in 12th place with 64.06 points.
Lee is the only Korean to have finished in the top 10 in the short program. Her biggest competitors going into the free skate on Friday are reigning champion Sakamoto and Japanese skater Mai Mihara, who came in third — just 0.16 points behind Lee.
Mihara is one of the most prominent skaters in the competition, as she took gold at the 2022-23 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.
The free skate will start on Friday at 5:20 p.m.
BY PAIK JI-HWAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]