For South Korean golfers, Presidents Cup and Asian Games could be life-changing

Presidents Cup South Korea Golf
Presidents Cup International team assistant captain K.J. Choi (left to right), Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im/Getty
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CHARLOTTE — A record four South Korean men are competing at this week’s Presidents Cup, where the International team eyes its second title in 14 editions (and first since 1998). It will be a historic week if the plucky underdogs can unseat the Americans, but for half of the South Korean contingent, what happens around this time next year could be even more life-changing.

Back in February, while the international sports world focused on the Beijing Winter Olympics, news circulated that the Asian Games (held in Winter Olympic years) would allow professional golfers for the first time later in 2022.

South Korea’s golf federation decided to use two of its four men’s golf team spots on professionals — its two highest men in the Official World Golf Ranking — and the other two on amateurs.

Why this is important: the Asian Games carry added significance for South Koreans, given a gold medal at the event can largely exempt them from the nation’s 18-month military service requirement for men. Athletes who win an Asian Games gold medal, or an Olympic medal of any color, can have their service reduced to a few weeks of basic training.

Before February’s news, South Korea’s top male pro golfers who had yet to serve had to win an Olympic medal to be eligible for the exemption: a quadrennial individual tournament with many of the world’s top players. A South Korean man didn’t finish in the top 10 of the last two Olympics, after the sport returned to the program following a 112-year break.

With February’s news, those pros are now eligible for the Asian Games — where the field is continental and, perhaps more importantly, there is a second gold-medal opportunity: a team event for each gender.

South Korea won the Asian Games men’s team event in 2006 and 2010, was second as host in 2002 and 2014 and third in 2018. Those were all amateur competitions. With pros, South Korea could be in a stronger position.

South Korea has passed Japan as the deepest Asian nation in men’s professional golf, evidenced by the quartet on the 12-man Presidents Cup team, all ranked in the top 76 in the world. Japan has one at the Presidents Cup, 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, its lone man in the top 79 in the world.

MORE: Presidents Cup broadcast schedule on Golf Channel, NBC, Peacock

The South Korean foursome at the Presidents Cup includes K.H. Lee, who was on the 2010 Asian Games champion team to earn his military exemption. Plus Sungjae Im, Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim, three PGA Tour winners who have not yet fulfilled their service.

But no more than two of them can be on the Asian Games team, should the South Korean federation selection procedures remain the same.

Back in April, South Korean media reported that Im and Si Woo Kim were chosen for the Asian Games team as the nation’s highest-ranked men. Days later, the Asian Games, scheduled to be held this month in Hangzhou, China, were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. They have been rescheduled for next September and October.

In the time since, the 20-year-old Tom Kim became the second-youngest PGA Tour winner since World War II. He passed Si Woo Kim in the world rankings and now sits at No. 22, which is 21 spots ahead of Lee and 54 spots ahead of Si Woo Kim. Im is No. 19.

A contact from South Korea’s golf federation said in an email Wednesday that the federation has not decided who will be on the team now that the Games have been pushed back a year.

Tom Kim, speaking Tuesday at the Presidents Cup, believed that qualifying will be reopened and that the two highest-ranked men come next spring will be in line to be on the team.

“It kind of worked well for me, but for some guys it didn’t really work well,” Tom Kim said of the Asian Games postponement. “Whoever plays the best golf ends up on that team. I’m focused on getting my job done this week and keeping my world ranking up there. I’ve never had a chance to play for my country. So if I could make my start at the Asian Games, it would be an honor.”

Lee was asked Wednesday his thoughts on possibly playing another Asian Games. “Because I played previously, and I’m a professional now, I’m going to stick to the PGA Tour,” he said through a translator.

That leaves Im, Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim, barring a breakthrough from somebody currently outside the top 100. South Korean men must enlist by age 28. Im, 24, and Tom Kim will still be young enough at the 2024 Paris Games to qualify for the exemption. Si Woo Kim turns 28 next June, possibly making the Asian Games his last chance.

“We’re all really close,” Tom Kim said. “We’re good friends and want the best for each other and support each other. So we spend a lot of time [together] outside the golf course, too. Obviously, there is a good, healthy rivalry. But all we do is just focus on how can we play the best golf and, you know, good golf kind of takes care of everything.”

A similarity between the Presidents Cup and the Asian Games, given how rarely they are played and the limited fields, is that a golfer’s first appearance could also be his last.

“So there’s a little bit more pressure behind it,” Im, through a translator, said of the Presidents Cup before being asked to compare the Asian Games. “There’s several reasons why the Asian Games is important to the Korean players. But most of it is, as a Korean, to win the gold medal for the country and to be one of the best Asian players would be very, very meaningful.”

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Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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