At the end of a flawless performance, it seemed that nothing could come between Yuna Kim and her bid to become only the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in figure skating.
But Kim, the undisputed darling of South Korean sport, and the millions of her compatriots who had stayed up into to the early hours to watch her decisive long programme at the Sochi Olympics on Thursday, had not reckoned with the sport’s opaque, and controversial, scoring system.
When the scores had been tallied, the 23-year old overwhelming favourite, had to settle for a silver medal, losing out by 5.48 points to the unfancied Russia skater Adeline Sotnikova, who won her country’s first women’s Olympic figure skating gold.
South Korean skating fans immediately cried foul play. “Queen Yuna,” they said, had been denied the gold that was rightfully hers by questionable judging and the looming presence of the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
As of Friday, more than 1.5 million of them had signed an online petition demanding an inquiry into Kim’s shock defeat. The petition could end up breaking change.org records – previous most-signed campaigns have included Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s successful attempt bring the man who shot their son, Trayvon Martin, to court (2.3m signatures) and a protest against YouTube and Google (4.3m).
The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said Kim had been denied the chance to join Germany’s Katarina Witt and Norway’s Sonja Henie as the only women to win successive Olympic figure skating golds by partisan judging and an “extra judge” in the form of Putin. Kim had been up against “the home turf score plus Putin’s score”, the South Korean newspaper said.
While delirious Russian fans celebrated Sotnikova’s surprise victory inside the Iceberg Skating Palace, doubts were quickly raised about the impartiality of at least two of the nine judges that had sent her into first place.