SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Dressed in a black neck-to-ankle outfit, Kim Yuna easily blended in with her three fellow skaters as she took to the ice at the training rink in Sochi on Friday.
With all four women wearing similar dark clothing, it was hard to keep track of who was who as they weaved from side to side during their warm ups.
But once the skaters launched into their jumps, there was no mistaking the South Korean Olympic champion, who has come to be known as Queen Yuna.
The 23-year-old’s duel with 15-year-old Russian princess Julia Lipnitskaya in next week’s women’s competition promises to be a battle royal at the Winter Olympics.
European champion Lipnitskaya became the youngest female figure skater in 78 years to win an Olympic gold after helping Russia capture the inaugural team title with two spectacular performances last week.
But Kim has played down the rivalry.
“I heard a lot about Julia Lipnitskaya,” she said after her first practice session on Thursday. “She just debuted in the senior level, but this is my last Olympic Games.”
Kim, who arrived in Sochi only on Wednesday night, is bidding to join Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt as the only women to have won back-to-back titles.
“I think the experience is different for both of us. I‘m not going to say anything special about the other athletes,” she added.
Four years after winning the Olympic title with two electrifying performances that earned her world record scores in the short and long programs, the 23-year-old showed on Friday that she would not give up the title without a fight.
The twice world champion performed segments of her free program and flew through the air as she pulled off one triple jump after another.
Kim appeared to be in a world of her own, paying scant attention to the hundreds of TV and stills cameras that followed her every move.
Even a cry of ‘Yuna’ from high up in the stands was ignored as she performed more than two dozen triple jumps, many of them in combination, during an intense session lasting some 40 minutes.
She paused only occasionally to wipe the sweat from her face and when she was done, she hurried past the scrum of reporters waiting to hear from her, grabbing the handle of her pink trolley case to make a swift exit.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; editing by Clare Lovell