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South Korea Gripped By 'Ice Queen' Kim Yu-Na Romance

As the two Koreas crossed diplomatic swords and military tensions simmered, South Koreans were focused Thursday on one thing only -- the love life of their adored figure-skating heroine, Kim Yu-Na.(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) 2014-03-06 03:26 AM EST
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Yuna Kim of Korea skates during the Figure Skating Exhibition Gala on Day 15 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 22, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
SEOUL, South Korea, March 06, 2014 (AFP) -

As the two Koreas crossed diplomatic swords and military tensions simmered, South Koreans were focused Thursday on one thing only -- the love life of their adored figure-skating heroine, Kim Yu-Na.


The news, backed by grainy paparazzi pictures of 23-year-old Kim arm-in-arm with a member of the national ice hockey team, led the bulletins on every TV channel and dominated news websites and chat forums.


Kim is far and away the most popular sports personality in South Korea where she is known as "Queen Yu-Na" and enjoys a passionate, devoted following among millions of people of all ages.


After controversial judging saw Kim, the defending Olympic champion, relegated to silver at the Winter Games in Sochi, more than two million people -- the vast majority South Koreans -- signed a petition calling for a review of the result.


The pictures of her with Kim Won-Jung, 29, were published on the tabloid website Dispatch, which has forged a reputation for exclusive paparazzi shots of Korean celebrities.


Kim Yu-Na's agency All That Sports confirmed the two were a couple.


"Most of what was reported is true, and (Kim Yu-Na) is dating Kim Won-Jung," it said in a brief statement.


The pictures, in which the couple are seen outdoors in shorts and T-shirts, were actually taken months ago, but Dispatch said it had withheld publication until after the Olympics for fear of impacting Kim Yu-Na's performance at the Games.


Dispatch said the two first met in 2012 and began dating in August last year.


"From the beginning we set the date for the release of the photos sometime after the Olympics out of consideration for her," said Na Ji-Yeon, one of the Dispatch reporters who worked on the story.


"So we decided to release the photos in March after all her professional activities were over," Na told the YTN news channel.


Kim Yu-Na, who has made millions from highly lucrative endorsement contracts, announced her retirement from competitive skating after the Sochi Games.


Thursday's revelations took over the day's news agenda, crowding out inter-Korean tensions caused by ongoing South Korea-US military exercises and a series of North Korean missile and rocket tests.


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