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(LEAD) Teen figure skating phenom rallies to qualify for PyeongChang Olympics

All Headlines 16:55 January 07, 2018

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SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korean teen figure skating phenom Cha Jun-hwan staged an impressive rally to qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Sunday.

Cha, 16, won the men's singles at the Korea Figure Skating Championships, which doubled as the third and final leg of the Olympic trials, at Mokdong Ice Rink in Seoul, with the overall score of 252.65 points. He scored 168.60 points in free skate, adding to 84.05 points from Saturday's short program.

With that, Cha won the qualification stage with 684.23 points, nipping Lee June-hyoung by 2.13 points. Only one Olympic spot in the men's singles was up for grabs.

Lee had won the first two qualification events and held a 20.29-point lead over Cha heading into Sunday's free skate. But he finished the Korea Figure Skating Championships in second place with 222.98 points, after earning just 146.18 points in free skate.

South Korean figure skater Cha Jun-hwan performs his free skate at the Korea Figure Skating Championships at Mokdong Ice Rink in Seoul on Jan. 7, 2018. (Yonhap)

Cha, who finished third at the International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix Final last year, made some last-minute change to his programs for this competition, and the move paid dividends.

He went back to his free skate routine from last season and attempted only one quadruple jump, instead of two. Cha has experienced ankle and hip pains while working on his quadruple jumps and decided to reduce the risky element for a shot at the Olympics.

Cha opened his free skate with a clean triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and pulled off a flawless quadruple salchow, his only quad jump of the day.

Cha followed it up with a perfect triple axel-double toe loop combination and was mistake free the rest of his program, which Cha capped off with a step sequence, triple loop and change of foot combination spin.

Coached by former Canadian star Brian Orser, Cha will make his Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

Cha said he will stick to the current free skate program at the Olympics, going the safer route with one quadruple jump.

"After the second Olympic qualification event, I told coach Orser that I wanted to go back to my old program (with one quad jump)," Cha said. "There isn't much time left until the Olympics, and I'll stay with the current program. And since I am not yet 100 percent healthy, it's unlikely I will make another change."

Cha said he didn't expect to qualify for PyeongChang because he was trailing Lee.

"The Olympics is a dream stage for all athletes," Cha added. "My biggest goal is to skate with confidence and not let nerves get to me. I'd like to show people everything that I am capable of."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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