VANCOUVER (AFP)(AP) -- Soccer, baseball and speedskating are passions in South Korea. Kim Yu-Nais an obsession.
The 19-year-old Kim, dubbed "Queen Yu-na" by her adoring public, has raised the appetite for figure skating in her nation from invisible to insatiable. She's mobbed everywhere she goes back home, so much so that Kim rarely appears in public in South Korea without bodyguards.
She trains in Toronto with coach Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist, partly because working full time in her homeland had become distracting, even dangerous. Since joining Orser in Canada, Kim has soared as a competitor and as a performer, capped by her first world championship last March.
"He gives me confidence, and he teaches me many things about skating that help me," Kim says.
But a coach can do only so much, and Orser has no control over the frenzy that follows Kim in South Korea. He recognizes the effect it can have on an athlete, and is impressed how she has handled the blinding spotlight.
"They've embraced her and they love her and she's very gracious about it," Orser says. "The audience seems to be captivated by her style, grace, athleticism. She's beautiful and she's everything you think of in figure skating. And she's managed to be a very strong competitor.
"She has great choreography and it seems to come from her soul. She's able to raise the bar and she has a passion for skating that seems to come across, and it's genuine."
Kim rarely comments on the hysteria her every move _ on and off the ice _ causes in her country, and possibly will elsewhere. Others do.
"She's a superstar in that country, a superstar. And if she wins the Olympics, she'll be a Godzillionaire," says Frank Carroll, who has coached his share of champions, including Vancouver gold medalist Evan Lysacek.
"Yu-na has a great fan base in the United States," adds Michelle Kwan, the five-time world champion and double Olympic medalist (silver in 1998, bronze in 2002). "She's already establishing herself, especially since she won worlds.
"If she can carry that and win the Olympics, that will be a statement. Especially when she's a beautiful skater and she's fun to watch, it doesn't matter what nationality or country from. That's what's great about sports. It transcends nationalities. People like to see great stories."
Kim's story certainly is exceptional, if only because she is a pioneer in the sport in South Korea. Japan has been a power in figure skating for two decades, and China emerged in that span, as well. But the only ice athletes to make any impact among South Koreans before Kim have been speedskaters.
Yet South Korea has begun to host key international events such as the Grand Prix final and Four Continents. A victory in Vancouver could provide a surge among participants there the way the 1980 Miracle on Ice did in the U.S.
Even so, she's already doing advertisements for everything from cars to mobile phones in South Korea. It's impossible to stroll through Seoul without seeing her picture adorning a bus or building or shop window.
Kim even finished 10th in a survey of most popular sports stars _ in Japan. Yes, Japan, the country's former colonial ruler. She was the only foreign athlete on the list; her top rival, Mao Asada, was second to baseball's Ichiro Suzuki.
A similar poll in South Korea certainly wouldn't include Asada. It might not include anyone else but Kim if she skates away from the Olympics with gold.
In her autobiography, Kim writes about dealing with success and its demands.
"People ask me about the added pressure and mental burden that comes with being the world champion. On the contrary, I have gained more confidence," she writes. "And I don't want to become one of those former champions who disappears because they failed to maintain their skills."
She even talks about competing beyond this season, although winning Olympic gold could change such plans. The last women's champion who stuck around for the next Olympic cycle was Katarina Witt from 1984-88.
"My dream doesn't end with the Olympics," Kim said. "I have a bigger future ahead of me. I'm not done yet."
Orser believes Kim isn't done stamping a significant imprint on figure skating, and not just in her country. Working daily with such a brilliant athlete sometimes makes Orser wonder if there are any boundaries at all for Kim.
"I would never want to put any limitations on Yu-na," he said. "She's extraordinary."
Yet Orser repeatedly has emphasized to her that Olympic gold shouldn't define anyone. Who would know better than Orser, who was edged by Scott Hamilton at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, then by Brian Boitano in the "Battle of the Brians" in Calgary four years later?
"My advice to her coming here was that we are not looking at medals or the color of the medals," Orser said. "Your life is not hinging on winning a medal. You need to embrace the Olympics, all of the Olympics."
AP National Writer Nancy Armour in Vancouver and Associated Press Writer Jean Lee in Seoul contributed to this story.