GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Among the scores of South Koreans uproariously cheering for hometown favorite Choi Dabin as she skated on Olympic ice for the first time on Sunday in the team event, one important person was missing — her mother, who died last year.
As far as the teenaged figure skater was concerned, however, she still felt her mother’s presence.
The diminutive Choi, who stands 1.55 metres tall and turned 18 less than a month ago, charmed the crowd with her lyrical, flowing performance to the song “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, a lament for a deceased father that contains the lyrics, “Papa, are you near me?”
At the completion of her programme the crowd roared, waving South Korean flags. Many of them gave her a standing ovation.
Choi, who finished sixth with 65.73 points — a personal best — said she was surprised and pleased with her score.
“This was my first Olympics so I was very nervous, but so many people came and cheered for me that I was able to compete and it was a very good experience,” she told reporters.
“My coach told me to just trust myself and do my best as I practised, so that gave me energy.”
The South Korean team did not make the cut to the qualifying round of the team event but Choi has another shot at Olympic glory with the women’s individual skate later in the Games.
Choi won her Olympic berth after a difficult off season in 2017 during which she struggled with foot pain adjusting to new skates, which required considerable tinkering.
Her mother, who had been ill with cancer for some time, died last June, a month before the first competition that selects South Korean skaters for the Olympics. Choi said at the time that she had contemplated dropping out.
On Sunday she said that she had finally adjusted to the shoes.
“And I am very thankful to my mother, who is watching me from Heaven,” she added.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clare Fallon