Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kim Yu-Na: Great Expectations

Kim Yu-Na (KOR) during the medals ceremony at ...Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I wrote about the my admiration for Joannie Rochette, skating through grief, her performance expressing her depth of feeling. I've also come to admire South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, whose Olympic struggle hasn't focused on the real presence of loss as much as its potential. Young, beautiful, famous and financially secure, she is a hero whose accomplishments have been incorporated into her country's sense of national pride. The pressure to win has to have been dizzying.

For us medical students, meeting the expectations of family, peers, or ourselves is difficult enough. We spend long hours in the lab, library, and exchange the warm embrace of lovers for late nights with warmed-over coffee, trying to learn what seems like ten thousand details for each exam. Forget the honors grade, sometimes a simple "pass" is cause for celebration.

It's no where near that easy for Kim. In a recent volume of essays, she wrote, "
"If my performance falters, not only people around me but the whole nation might turn their back on me.(1)" Under normal circumstances, one might be tempted to ask if it could get that serious, but her own experience says otherwise. When she only received second place at an event in 2008, she said, "I got a flurry of text messages, but I felt sad and disappointed after checking them. Not a single message congratulated me.(2)"

I don't know about you, but I've never experienced anything quite like that.
To say there was a lot riding on her performance this year is putting it so lightly as to be embarrassing. A personal best was out of the question; she had to be the best. And, thankfully, she was.

A recurring theme in my posts this week has been the meaning of Olympic participation aside from actually winning a medal. In a situation like Kim's, where the investment in one's performance is almost immeasurable, I'm in awe of her ability to cope and find courage and strength in what must have seemed at times, like a very dark place. For me, that's what the Olympics are all about. Life is too, sometimes, come to think of it.


(GNU Free Documentation image of Kim Yu-Na at the 2008 World Skating Championships via Wikipedia)

(Citations: (1) "Korean Skater Copes With Nation's Hopes," by Evan Ramstad, The Wall Street Journal, 2/22/20. (2) "Figure Skater Bears Weight of S. Korea's Expectations," by Nick McMaster, Newser.com.)
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