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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Figure skater Lee Hae-in has big Olympic dreams

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Lee Hae-in poses during an interview with the Joongang Ilbo at the AT Sports Building in Gangnam, western Seoul on March 31. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Lee Hae-in poses during an interview with the Joongang Ilbo at the AT Sports Building in Gangnam, western Seoul on March 31. [JOONGANG ILBO]

World Figure Skating Championships silver medalist Lee Hae-in has yet to achieve her ultimate dream — competing at the Winter Olympics.

The 18-year-old rose to prominence this year after winning a silver medal at the World Championships last month in Japan — the second most prominent figure skating event after the Olympics.

Lee took silver with 220.94 points, earning Korea’s first medal since figure skating legend Kim Yuna’s gold in 2013.

The JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Lee to discuss her goals and future plans.

“I am no longer skeptical about myself,” Lee said. “I don’t usually make errors, but I could not get a high score. I even thought ‘Will I ever get a score that high?’

“But I gained confidence at the Four Continents, and it allowed me to believe in myself.”

Lee pulled off a perfect performance in the free skate after coming in second in the short program at the World Championships.

“I wanted to do the same as how I did at the Four Continents and my wish came true,” Lee said. “I thought I could do well in the free skate since I had done the short program well and it allowed me to perform well and happily.

“When coach Chi Hyun-jung said, ‘You can do it’ I replied, ‘You think so?’”

Lee also said that she was able to perform well in the free skate thanks to spending some leisure time with coach Kim Jin-seo and fellow skater Kim Cha-yeon during the days between the short program and free skate.

Lee first learned figure skating when she was a first grader and started her career the following year. She was able to shine thanks to her parent’s decision to fully support her athletic career.

She became a big prospect as a fifth grader, when she learned all five triple jumps: Toe loop, Loop, Salchow, Flip and Lutz. Her talent allowed her to win the International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix in 2019 and she also finished fifth in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships the following year.

Like other figure skaters, Lee also went through growing pains and had a hard time skating with as much poise after she had finished growing.

That is when she regretted having become a figure skater. After going through that struggle, she even told her mom that she didn’t want to figure skate anymore — but still ended up heading to the ice rink.

Painting is what helped her overcome those tough times.

“I’ve enjoyed painting since I was young,” Lee said. “I went to art academy for a year when I was a third grader. But after I changed the training rink, I didn’t have much spare time. I still paint on my own often when I can.”

Lee Hae-in's drawing of Snow White [LEE HAE-IN]
Lee Hae-in’s drawing of Snow White [LEE HAE-IN]
Lee Hae-in's drawing of Snow White [LEE HAE-IN]
Lee Hae-in’s drawing of Snow White [LEE HAE-IN]


Lee often uploads her paintings on social media.

“Those around me compliment my paintings, so I give them my paintings as gifts,” she said. “I drew Cha Jun-hwan, You Young, Lee Si-hyeong, Kyeong Jae-seok and foreign skaters like Mai Mihara, Audrey Shin and Ilia Malinin. They all liked the paintings.”

Lee has also painted Elsa from Frozen, Snow White and other Disney characters.

The figure skater also started learning a foreign language.

“I’ve been learning Japanese recently,” Lee said. “I enjoy watching animations from Studio Ghibli like ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ or ‘The Cat Returns.’”

Alongside Japanese, Lee is also a confident English speaker and has previously done interviews in English without a translator.

“I have not learned it properly, but my English got better as I talk to other skaters,” she said.

Lee chose Brave Girls’ hit song “Rollin’” for last season’s exhibition gala and selected IVE’s song “After Like” for this season’s exhibition.

“‘After Like’ is the song I listened to a lot when I was having a tough time,” Lee said. “I listened to ‘Rollin’ to relieve nervousness. It got cringy when I performed, but it was fun.

“I’m thinking about performing in a school uniform with New Jeans’ ‘Hype Boy.’”

Lee maintains a tight schedule, with training on ice twice a day during the offseason and in the gym every day for an hour and half.

“I also take dance class,” she said. “I dance when I don’t want to exercise during training to burn calories.”

As a figure skater, Lee maintains her weight meticulously.

“I like tteokbokki and fried chicken,” Lee said. “I ate those after returning from the World Championships. I only ate a small portion, because I shouldn’t eat a lot, and offered my older sister the rest.”

Lee’s role model is Korean figure skating legend Kim Yuna. Her favorite programs performed by Kim are Les Miserables in 2012-13 season, Giselle in 2011 and the Bat in 2007-08 season.

Lee’s dream is to compete at the Olympics with the best triple axel.

“I succeeded two or three times out of five attempts” Lee said. “I really want to display it next season. I will continue to improve and maintain good form in the 2026 Milan and Cortina Olympics.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [paik.jihwan@joongang.co.kr]