Pop Culture

The ‘Dan and Dave’-ification of Kim Yuna

Posted on February 24, 2010. Filed under: Issues, Pop Culture, Sport |

Watching Kim Yuna skating today was terrifying. The only thing more frightening than that, was watching Mao Asada perform beautifully in the routine just minutes before Kim took the ice. And even though Kim Yuna skated gracefully enough to outscore the other skaters –and claim the world record with it– I still feel a little sick. The butterflies that shouldn’t be there in the first place are still there; fluttering around and making me –a non-figure skating fan– feel uncomfortably nervous for Friday’s upcoming long-program finals.

Before the 1992 Barcelona Games, there was a pair of American decathletes that most people will remember from their Reebok commercials as Dan & Dave“.

The campaign was called Dan & Dave and it bombarded the American public with eight solid months of Dan & Dave commercials. Shortly after the Games got underway, Reebok scrapped the entire campaign since Dan O’Brien failed to qualify. Retooling the campaign to just “Dave” didn’t really work and brought attention to Reebok’s American failure. Sure, there have been other incidences of commercial athletes failing to live up to the hype (1988 Ben Johnson, 2004 US  Dream Team, 2006 Bode Miller), but the Dan & Dave blunder sticks out the most.

There are loads of reasons why great athletes blow it in the Olympics (being Canadian doesn’t help), but excessive commercial attention and overexposure are certainly some major players. Kim Yuna is easily the biggest celebrity in Korea as we witnessed today when Seoul –or Gangnam at least– essentially stopped for ten minutes (nemesis Mao got some attention as well) to watch Kim skate.

South Koreans cut short their lunch breaks and huddled around televisions in shops, offices and train stations, gasping with each of Kim’s jumps and cheering each clean landing. There were whoops and cheers when her score flashed up.

As if that pressure wasn’t enough, she went into these Games as the highest-earning Olympian with more commercials and advertisements under her belt than all the other athletes combined. Seriously, you can’t watch television for more than ten minutes without seeing a few Kim Yuna commercials. Not only has she inspired an entire nation and generation to appreciate the sport, but the embattled city of Pyeongchang is hoping that her performance will boost its chances of hosting the Winter Games in 2018. That’s an awful lot for a 19-year-old girl to have on her plate.

And to take it one step further, figure skating is not like a head-to-head competition or a race. Sure, nerves get to everyone before they compete, but something as delicate and –frankly– as judged as figure skating, doesn’t need anymore variables affecting a skaters performance.

Luckily, the pressure didn’t get to her today as she performed masterfully on the ice . Her coach, Brian Orser (of Battle of the Brians), knows pressure better than most and he felt confident that Friday will go well.

“There’s so much emphasis on the short. It’s do or die,” Orser said. “When that pressure is gone, there’s like a lightness to your skating, there’s an extra weight that is off your shoulders. I think she’s just going to soar after this, she’s just gonna fly.”

I certainly hope so and after she wins the gold on Friday, she can come home to Korea with more pride, more bodyguards and much more money than she had when she left.

Unless she loses.

Unlikely as it seems or we hope, there is still a chance. With her solid performance today, she’s proven to me that she can handle the pressure –the rest just depends on how well the other skaters do. Regardless of a gold, bronze or great effort, does Korea need to rethink its over-glorification of its young athletes? After all –for some reason– I am concerned about her winning the gold and I have no interest in the damn sport.

Kim Yuna is the answer. If she wins, then Korea’s crazy, foaming-at-the-mouth lionization is validated. They will continue as is; finding athletes, showering them with praise and money and will place the burden of “우리 나라” right on their shoulders. They’re coming for you next, skaters.

If she loses –and this is my concern– will they realize that maybe, just maybe,  it was all a little overboard? If they Dan & Dave Kim Yuna, will they hold themselves responsible?

I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, I think they will continue to foam and praise and if she does happen to lose this one –well– it was that one Japanese judge’s fault anyways. They’ve always hated Kim Yuna.

Right, Korea. No one hates Kim Yuna.

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