Not Past It - Korea’s Olympic Dream

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For a brief period in my early 20s.

I moved to Seoul South Korea, to do what?

So, many foreigners go there to do, teach English.

This was in, like, 2014 2015, a few years after sigh went viral with his hit song, Gangnam Style, but still a few more years before BTS.


Hit the Billboard Hot 100.

That’s for those of you who Mark time via major Kpop events, like I do.

I taught at a foreign language Academy.

I worked mainly with adults.

So class was often just uh sharing stories about our lives, but some grammatical Corrections and new vocab words sprinkled in usually, people would just tell me about stuff.


They were watching stuff.

They liked.

And during one of these sessions, a student of mine spent our entire class period telling me about this one figure skater.

She was obsessed with Yuna Kim.

She was explaining Seeing how talented she was, how she trained hard her whole life sacrificed so much and as she’s describing the skater.


I’m like, yeah, she sounds cool, you know, not really knowing who this athlete was.

But still I wanted to know what all the hype was about.

So after class I looked her up and let me tell you the second.


I saw her skating.

I got it.

I too was all about eunuch.

I am, and it wasn’t just me.

Oh, my goodness.

This is glorious.

It’s one of the greatest Olympic performances.


I have ever seen.

From gimlet media.

This is not past it a show about the stories.

We can’t quite leave behind every episode.


We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.

I’m Simone plannin on February 25th, 2010 12 years ago, this week Yuna Kim set a new world record in figure skating and her celebrity.


Yeah, was about so much more than just Sports before squid game before parasite.

This was an opportunity for the country to occupy a new kind of space in the global Consciousness.

It’s a story of perseverance and hard, one Triumph for an athlete.


And for a nation.

We’re taking the ice after the break.


The 2022, Winter Olympics.

In Beijing, just wrapped up this week.

And if you follow the games, you know, that figure skating draws some of the biggest crowds and some of the biggest drama, there are triumphs heartbreaks controversies and heroes for South Korea.


Yuna Kim.

Was that hero?

She was actually the first to represent her home country in figure skating at the Olympics back in 2010.

Though skating had long been a favorite pastime and South Korea when the Han River was frozen.


I used to skate with my younger siblings.

That’s Jimmy.


We taught together when I lived in Seoul and also back in the past that when I was a child, there were a few rice fields, even is whole, and in the wintertime those places were frozen.


So I also be used to skate on the Frozen rice field as Wow, I didn’t know you could skate on rice fields.

I didn’t know that.

Yeah, well actually, but I think I can do quite many things.

You know, more than you think.

I just read like anyone.


Jenny’s lived in Seoul all her life and absolutely loves watching sports, especially the Olympics and she remembers distinctly when Yuna Kim burst onto the stage.

I think she was like in an elementary school, you know, wearing braces and you know, she quite ambitious, Lee said that.


Oh, yeah.

I want to participate in the Olympics and I would like to win a gold medal one day and I was like, okay, you know, there you go.

Girl you go and try In Korea, by the way, she’d be referred to by her family name.

First Kim Jana, but she’s asked the English-speaking media to call her Yuna Kim and Yuna, like Ginny was raised in a family that liked to skate for fun to go to Hawaii.


Father to us all your, the piggy tumble.

Thought this was Eunice.

Mom, Park me.

He explaining, you know, as modest Beginnings in a Korean documentary.

She says she and her Husband, loved skating, even before their daughter started to learn, they all went skating together.


And when the working class family moved to Seoul in 1996, they wanted to keep the tradition alive.

So they found them all.

That just happened to have an indoor ice rink.

And that’s where you NE started taking lessons.

Sort of Allah Tonya, Harding - you know, the kneecapping pretty quickly, you know, I fell in love with the sport that This is the art of dancing with mind-bending athleticism.


She even wrote about her skating dreams while she was in the first grade and within eight months of first hitting the ice Yuna began training six days a week.

She’d skate endless Laps on the ice, sometimes 100 in a single session, but the young skater also twirled and empty hallways.


Perfecting her form off the ice.

And by the time she was eight.

She started to study.

The the Great’s herself.

She says, every day.


She watched the women skaters performances in the 1998 Olympics.

The year Tara, Lipinski and Michelle Kwan won Gold and Silver.

Yuna says, she even memorized the movements from start to finish from a young age.


She was dedicated to her Sport and Ambitious and as she perfected her skills, her biggest competition was herself without a she castle with a smile.


You not explains that her focus is on, giving her best meeting her own high standards, not necessarily beating out others.

She just had a real sense of who she was and where she wanted to go and what she could accomplish.

And that’s very inspiring I think for so, South Koreans, who do grow up in a really rigid system.


That’s Jean Lee.

She’s the former AP bureau chief for the Korean Peninsula.

I think it’s important to remember that South Korea is still a very young democracy that sees itself as a small country that came out of war in the 1950s.

Absolutely shattered.

Absolutely destroyed really struggled for decades around 2 million Koreans were killed in the Korean War and the conflicts leading up to it.


And the In 40s and 50s.

And the peninsula was officially split into North and South.

And the decades immediately following South Korea struggled.

It was mainly a region of farmers, and the economy was slow to grow for decades.


The country was ruled by successive military, dictatorships that focused on turning the country into the industrial Powerhouse.

We know today, eventually the country democratized and in the late 1980s.

They showed off their progress to the world.


When South Korea, hosted the Olympics in 1988, that to me was a turning point.

That was when South Korea, was just starting to become a democracy coming out of years of a military authoritarian.

Rule, a new chapter for South Korea, though.


One still very much shaped by the nation’s long history and everything.

So hierarchical and South Korea, they frown upon having Renegades coming out of nowhere.

It’s like To be part of the system.

And as far as the Olympics were concerned, figure skating was not part of that system instead the country through its weight behind a different sport, short track speed skating.


It’s very much what it sounds like a race around the track on the ice All About Time and speed.

This makes sense because I think South Koreans always saw themselves as really hard workers thinking that they didn’t have the body or the physique, for different types of sports.


But some sports that they have, the physique, and the drive and the ethic to do well at.

So when you NE said, she wanted to go to the Olympics and win gold and figure skating, not speed skating.

It really was an eye-opening moment.


South Korean saw that they could move beyond their history.

We hadn’t seen that.

Bruce hadn’t seen that before, you know, where you’re able to see them break away from the kind of monotony of the training and able to express individuality.


She had a Clear Vision of who she wanted to be.

It didn’t feel like it was dictated eventually though.

Eunice, ambition, ran into a problem.

There were no world-renowned training programs for figure skating in Korea.

Unlike in Russia, Canada, the US and in neighboring, Japan.


South Korea’s biggest rival on the ice and on the political stage.

So if she wanted that gold, it was clear.

She had to go overseas.

She moved to Canada to train and when unit turned 16.

She was finally eligible to skate and senior level competitions on the international circuit.


It took her only two matches to place first.

She’s like a little butterfly on Ice really her performance is really smooth and her movements over like a fingers and hands and you know facial expressions are I don’t think it’s like a sports performance.


It’s like an art show over the next three years.

She dominated winning the top prize at Grand Prix after Grand Prix.

One of which she won with a herniated disc because of anti-doping rules.

She was only allowed Sports tape for the pain.


But now that she was skating on the international stage and not just in Korea.

She wasn’t just competing against herself anymore.

She was facing a new level of competitor.

At the time of Hall.


One of our biggest Rivals were acid a mouth like a Japanese figure skater for years.

The two skaters were basically metal swapping at all, the important International competitions, but unlike Yuna Mal was coming from a country.


With a well-established figure skating program.

They had much more skaters than South Korea and I’m not sure I could say, you know, if I was envious of them, but honestly like it.

Sports area yet.

They wore more advanced.


These competitions were all just leading up to the biggest winter sports event in the world.

The 2010, Vancouver Olympic Games.

The new said that, okay.

She’s going to the Olympics.

Let for the first time in South Korean history as a figure skater player.


And then we were like War.

That’s huge.

So, it’s February 2010.

We’re in Vancouver.

It’s cold as shit.

But inside the Dome.

Darina, the crowd is red.

Hot stuffed in big fluffy jackets.


Their eyes are at Center Stage.

The sidelines are covered in green and blue Olympic rings.

The rink is shining, the silky ice awaits a queen at the edge, you know, stretches takes off her white Olympic windbreaker.


She breathes in, she breathes out the pressure mounting and not just for herself, an announcer, mentions an essay.

She had written detailing, a new kind of anxiety published last month.

And she wrote my performance falters.


Not only people around me, but the whole nation might turn their back on me and it’s the pressure.

She carries.

Yuna Kim takes the ice with the weight of her country on her shoulders, after the break.

Annyeong, and welcome back.


My little butterflies on Ice before the break.

We left Yuna Kim.

Just as she was about to skate at the Olympics and faced her rival.

Japanese skater Mao asada.

It was like all of Korea was watching ready to cheer Yuna on crossing their fingers for a historic win.


From the 19 year old athlete.

Including my teacher friend, Jenny.

She A watching, Yoon has performance at work.

In the Teachers Lounge, there were like five or six teachers and we were literally standing, you know, around someone’s laptop.


They watched as Yuna glided on to the ice in her sparkly blue dress hair slicked back in a tight bun.

Eyes on the motherfucking prize.

My heart, just sort of started beating a little faster.

Just seeing her, take the ice.


This is unit, stops in the center of the rink, looks up into the Black steel ceiling arms braced like a prima ballerina.

The first chord of this classical concerto Echoes across the ice.

And with that, you NE locks into performance mode ahead.


Cock a little smile, then she takes off gliding, like it’s nothing.


It’ll be the first to Jumping passes.

First one, the triple-triple combination.

She goes into this with, so much speed.

She’s It’s backwards and launches into the air, she jumps and Spins and lands, jumps and Spins and lands.



It’s like friction and gravity and force were all just myths.

Your physics teacher told you about every time she met a jump.

I was so nervous.

Well, that’s triple toe.

But she clearly nailed it.


She’s doing these incredible tricks.

And yet she moves with such Joy, such ease, such light and as the music crescendos, she goes into her, final moves, she Twirls with her leg out behind her, then stretched out in front of her.


Then she pulls her skate up above her head, and just spins and Spins, and Spins.

The crowd roaring, louder and louder.

Then she hits that final pose.

Her arms stretched out in a Victorious.


V, bam.

Oh my goodness.

This is glorious.

It’s one of the greatest Olympic performances.

I have ever seen routine.

Absolutely nailed.


That’s Why They Call Her Queen Yuna.

United States with her coach in the kiss and cry that area just off to the side of the rank.

She wipes away tears, anxiously waiting.


Then finally the scores come in every city for please and in the words of the great Alicia Keys, this girl was on fire.

Record of the old record.


I was like, I was literally shouting.

Like, really, really, yes, a new world record.

South Koreans were going nuts, you know, walloped all the contenders that skated before her.


But the next skater to take the ice was the one.

You know, was worried about Japanese skater Mao asada.

That country is memorable for the Korean for over a century.


Japan, and South Korea have had an extremely tense relationship in 1910, Japan annexed South Korea.

And for 35 years.

They led a brutal occupation, the Comfort women and forced labor of that era are still deep scars.


So when South Korea, defeat someone from Japan in any sport, it’s a really Big deal.

But beating Japan and a sport, they’d excelled in a sport.

Like, figure skating.

That would be even better though for their part.



Wanted their star malasada to win just as badly.

She has the same pressure from her own country to live up to expectation.

So back in Vancouver with the crowd still reeling from yuna’s world record performance.


Takes the ice.

She wears a red and black costume.

Her skirts decorated, with feathery bits of fabric, her black gloves, trimmed with sparkles a very Black Swan aesthetic.

She looks ready to dominate to Jumping passes.


Both triple axels and Mao starts off really strong.

The first woman in Olympic history to land two triple axels in the same competition.


Yeah, triple axels in a competition ever Mal.

Kills it.

But it’s not clear that she’s bested.

You know, what is clear.


Is that either Mao or Yuna will be taking home the gold?

People hold their breath in the icy Arena and at the end of the event, the announcement.

Everyone is waiting for the Republic.


Yuna Kim beat Mao asada by a whopping, 23 points, and everywhere in South Korea, people celebrated.

Here’s former AP, bureau chief Jean Lee again, unbelievable, wherever you went.


You saw people watching it.

They would stop whatever they were doing and watch clips of her skating.

You knows when in took over South Korean news, they had the TV on and restaurants.

It was, it was all over the front pages.

It was something that the people of South Korea, just just cherished, the 2010 Olympics, solidified Yuna Kim, celebrity status in South Korea.


She’s since been named a UNICEF, Goodwill Ambassador.

She spoke at the general assembly and in 2018.

She had the honorable job of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the pyeongchang.

Winter Olympics known in this part of the world is coin, you know, but 27 year old has had some proud moments in her career.


Surely none, proud of them this and her Olympic Legacy is alive.

And well, even at the Winter Games that just ended when you all know Kim participate in 2010 Olympics.

She was the only figure skater in the Olympics, but for Beijing, we have for now.


Yes, and one of them, he recently won the gold medal in four continents figure skating championship.

And I was like, see this is the result of what you’re not game, did it’s safe to say that you know, Kim is an icon in South Korea.


So as a Korean person also like as a sports fan, she’s amazing.

I mean, I couldn’t find any other words and I wish I knew all the vocabulary to describe in a how wonderful she is.

And, you know, now looking back.


What do you think Yuna Kim represents for South Korea?

Culturally, that’s such an interesting question for you to pose.

Right now.

She emerged during this period where they were finally really coming into the first world.


She was like a perfect example of somebody that the South Koreans wanted to grasp onto because she saw the potential Jolin herself to compete at the international level and to win to beat the very best in the world.

She broke that boundary and that psychological boundary of what South Koreans could accomplish.


She did it in all the ways that allowed the Koreans to fully Embrace her is that was true to her South Korean sense of Pride and nationalism.

It’s tough for me as an American to fully relate to that sense of pride.


And I watched the Olympics.

I have certain athletes.

I root for, but I’m not thinking about American representation or whatever.

I do feel like I get a glimpse of that Pride though.

When I watch the Olympics with my family, who were born outside of the US, I love watching swimming with my dad and seeing the one or two swimmers his home.


Country of Suriname sends to the Olympics every four years.

Or oh my God, watching those long distance track and field events with my Ian’s side of the family.

That’s a party.

It’s clear.

The stakes are just different that shot at the international stage holds.


So much weight and a win as big as Yuna Kim’s gold medal.

I could even inspire a nation to rethink itself rethink, what it’s capable of rethink, where it stands in the eyes of the world.

And I have just one last thing to say, long live Queen.


You know, not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.

This episode was produced by Julie Carly next week.

We’re going on a history, Domino journey to explore how we learn about the past.


You know, I look at today’s environment and people not necessarily wanting history to be told it’s, it is because we don’t want anybody to feel bad.

I’m like, feel bad.

There are people who live, this.

The rest of our team, our producer, Sarah Craig, and Amy Padula.


Our associate producer is Ramon, Philip.

Laura Newcombe, is our production assistant.

The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by moral Waltz, Andrea be Scott and Zach Stewart Ponte a fact-checking by Jane Ackerman translation by Hyun Sook Kim sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.


She original music by Sachs kicks.


Willie Green.

J blasts and Bobby Lord.

Our theme song.

Is Toko Leon.


Coco Co with music supervision by Liz, Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman.


The executive producer at CSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte a, the executive producer from gimlet is a Peru zika and hey, not past it is doing a live show.

We’re going to on are Fest at the end of February.

It’s a festival that celebrates all things audio.


So if you’ll be in the New York City area on February 25th, come through for Tickets and more information visit on are

And if you want to check out more from former AP bureau chief Jean Lee, you can listen to her podcast, all about North Korea and the Sony hack.


It’s called The Lazarus Heist special.

Thanks to Hyun Sook Kim, Alex Bay, Kareem Ali you jihyo and to Lydia Pole Green, Dan Behar Emily wiedemann list Styles and the veal, cholan pot.


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Thanks for Hangin.

We’ll see you next week.

When you take North, Koreans ice skating, there is nothing robotic because they are just all over the place.

They’ve never put skates on before they cannot put on a robotic appearance because they’re just trying to stay upright.