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Rising South Korean skating star made her start in Singapore

TODAY reports: You Young's former coach says the 11-year-old figure-skating prodigy's talent was evident from young.

SINGAPORE: She has been touted as South Korea’s next big thing, the one to inherit the mantle from figure skating superstar Kim Yuna. This came after You Young dazzled the crowd at the 70th Korean Figure Skating Championships last Sunday (Jan 10) with a flawless performance that saw the 11-year-old crowned as the national champion — the youngest-ever winner at the event which Kim first won at the age of 12.

While Korea’s new figure skating prodigy made headlines worldwide, and wowed many with her feat, Singapore-based coach Zhang Wei is not surprised by his former student’s achievement.

Raised in Singapore, Young had trained with Zhang for a six-month period in 2012 and competed in Singapore’s National Figure Skating Championships at Kallang Ice World from 2011 to 2013.

She had also worked with various coaches in Korea and Singapore, including Zhang’s wife Zhang Mo and veteran coach Raymond Cheah.

Her talent was evident even then, said Zhang. The 37-year-old told TODAY: “She’s not the most talented athlete I’ve coached.

“But her jumps, explosive energy, flexibility and coordination were very good then, and it is very rare that you get all these qualities in one athlete, particularly at that age.

“There are only about five female skaters who can do the triple axel and I think she’s got a chance of mastering it as her technique in the double jumps is perfect.”

He is confident that Young — who returned to Korea in 2013 to further her development on Zhang’s advice — has what it takes to become a future world and Olympic champion.

“I told her mother that she is a talent worth investing in, but she needed to go back to Korea because the training environment there is better,” he said.

“Puberty is usually the toughest for female skaters due to weight gain which affects jumps and explosiveness, but You Young’s technique is very good so she will not be that affected. She needs to stay injury free and with proper training, she definitely has a chance at winning the Olympics and world championships.”

South Korean figure skater You Young catches up with her former coach, Singapore-based Zhang Wei, after a competition in Thailand last year. (Photo: Zhang Wei)

A former Chinese national ice dancer, Zhang won gold with partner Wang Rui at the 1999 Asian Winter Games, and finished 10th at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in 2000.

Since his retirement in 2001, he has worked as a figure skating judge, coach and choreographer in China, Thailand, and Singapore. Even though he is based in Singapore, he is also currently the choreographer of China’s national junior team.

His students include China’s three-time world junior champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (pairs figure skating), and skating pair Yu Xiaoyu and Jing Yang, who won gold at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria.

While Singapore has yet to produce skaters at the Asian and international level, Zhang believes that a medal at next year’s South-east Asian Games in Malaysia - where winter sports like ice skating and ice hockey are set to make their debut - is possible.

But much needs to be done in Singapore in order to excel beyond the SEA Games.

Zhang cited various factors that will help improve the standard of the sport here: elevating the standard of coaches and judges, more rink time for athletes, and having the sport recognised as a co-curricular activity (CCA) in schools.

“Singapore has a lot of good kids…national team skaters like Jessica (Yu), Chloe Ing and Ceciliane (Hartmann) who are based overseas. But many give up due to studies and that is a pity,” said Zhang.

“The standard in South-east Asia is not that high so there is definitely a chance for a medal at the SEA Games. I’ll be happy to help the national team if I can."

Read the original TODAY report here.