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Cha Jun-hwan glides through nat’l qualifier

Dec 26,2018
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Cha Jun-hwan [YONHAP]
Cha Jun-hwan has proven that his podium finish at the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix final earlier this month wasn’t a fluke.

In front of Korean figure skating fans, Cha won the first leg of the national team qualifier at the Mokdong Ice Rink in Seoul on Sunday. Just as fans said before the start of the event, there was no one who stood a chance of challenging Cha in the tournament. With a total of 257.01 points, Cha finished a good 55.74 points ahead of runner-up Lee June-hyung.

“I’m glad to have a clean performance and to win in front of the home fans,” Cha said.

The 2018-19 season is only Cha’s second as a senior, but he has made huge improvements compared to other years. Cha won bronze in two of the Grand Prix series and became the first Korean figure skater since Kim Yuna to compete at the Grand Prix final, where he made history by winning the bronze.

Cha is now ranked 19th in the latest world ranking.

After Cha started figure skating in second grade, he quickly rose through the ranks to become the future of Korean men’s figure skating. Before starting middle school, Cha mastered the triple jump, as well as five different jumps, and included them in his program. Cha quickly saw success in international events as a junior, winning the third and seventh legs of the 2016-17 season ISU Junior Grand Prix and finishing third at the Junior Grand Prix final, becoming the first Korean male figure skater to medal.

However, Cha’s career wasn’t always successful. Last season he played with injuries, leading to a disappointing debut season on the senior stage. During the first national team qualifier in July, 2017, Cha made several mistakes in his jumps and right after his performance he had to go straight to the hospital. As Cha wasn’t able to perform, he was slowly forgotten by Korean fans.

But Cha didn’t let injuries and high expectations affect him for too long. He earned Korea’s last spot to compete at the PyeongChang Olympics by winning the final qualifier. At PyeongChang, Cha was the youngest male figure skater to compete and received his personal best score of 248.59 points, finishing 15th.

Although Cha didn’t win the event, it was a historic achievement in Korean men’s figure skating as he set new records in both best score and best finish. Since the Olympics, Cha has shown his improvement in international events, winning a total of three bronze medals.

Cha still has plenty of seasons left to prove that Korean figure skating fans once again have a reason to be excited - the 2018-19 season doesn’t end until June 30.

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]