In essence, there's nothing more to figure skating than prancing about on ice at dangerous speeds attempting logic-defying acrobatics while trying to appear graceful and pretty without snotting yourself. Many of them did, but there was no Shadenfreude in watching them fall. Everyone could appreciate the finite line between glory and failure, the razor edge between elation and despair, dignity or humiliation.
For figure skating is such a cruel sport. One slip and the whole thing's lost. All those months of painstaking preparation, the long hours of never-ending practice, the discipline of controlled concentration and self-sacrifice can be wasted in just a tiny lapse, an unseen glitch, or a fleeting moment in which the pressure seizes command.
I don't think it's coincidence that many of the skaters seemed to improve after their first fall, freed of the shackles of pressure after knowing they'd nothing left to lose. They were suddenly zipping around without a care in the world, detached from their surroundings and all the expectations they held.
This was how Kim Yu-na made her debut. A hush fell on the hall as soon as she appeared, all craning their necks to get a glimpse of the Olympic champion as she awaited her turn, despite some other poor girl still doing her best to entertain them out on the rink.
Yu-na hadn't been seen in competition for 19 months and the excitement was palpable. When she entered the rink she was at one with it, moving with exceptional elegance and grace, launching herself fearlessly into spinning jumps, yet landing with implausible softness. (As written before.)
I have to say she was impressive. I'm no figure skating expert, but it was clear to see we were witnessing something special. All were spellbound in her presence.
I felt sorry for the other girls – the mere mortals – especially those we had to skate after her, even as the spectators were still buzzing and chattering excitedly after what they'd just seen. Many just left.
On the second day Yu-na proved that she too is human – she fell. You could almost hear hearts breaking in the hall.
“I've never seen her fall before,” said one woman behind me.
Yu-na got up again, and carried on with her routine again where she left off. She had already done more than enough to run away with the competition, but she continued wowing the spectators – and evidently the judges – with more spectacular jumps, each followed by landings as soft as a feather's.
Over the two days, she set the best mark achieved by any woman all season, and she has electrified the sport once again before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
My assignment went well. Who knows? Maybe I'll be there too!
ESPN: Kim Yu-na makes triumphant return
NBC: Kim Yu-na reigns on return to skating competition
Japan Today: Kim Yu-na posts season's best to seal return
The China Post: Kim seals return with season-best score