LONDON, ONT. - This is Yuna Kim's first major figure skating competition in two years.
She hasn't collected much rust.
The South Korean sensation heads into Saturday's women's free skate at the world figure skating championships with the lead after scoring 69.97 points in her short program Thursday at Budweiser Gardens.
She doesn't have the comfortable five-point cushion she built with a world record skate three years ago at the Vancouver Olympics, but she is starting to rediscover that same competitive spirit.
" I felt a bit empty (after Olympic gold) because I had achieved my goal," the 22-year-old former Toronto resident said through an interpreter. "Most skaters who decide to come back do it right away and it's really hard to get back on the same mentality right away.
"However, I skipped out one, two seasons after the win. It wasn't an easy decision to make but I made it and now, I'm just focused to be back."
No woman has repeated as Olympic gold medallist since Germany's Katarina Witt did it in 1988 at Calgary. Kim, who already has one world title (2009), is using this world championship meet as her springboard to Sochi next February.
The rest of the field, led by defending champ Carolina Kostner of Italy (66.86), Japan's Kanako Murakami (66.64) and Canada's 17-year-old Kaetlyn Osmond (64.73), knows it's going to be tough sledding to unseat Kim.
"I usually have to deal with so many of my self-demons that I just try to spend the least time possible thinking about others," said the 26-year-old Kostner, who is taking part in her 11th worlds. "I'm convinced that - and this is how I was educated by my parents - you should skate as long as you are happy. You should feel pleasure doing it, and if she (Kim) finds the pleasure coming back competing, I think it's a pleasure for everyone to see.
"This is just how I think it is."
In Kim's last appearance at the worlds in Moscow (2011), she won the short program, but finished second overall to Japan's Miki Ando. She wasn't over the moon about her score, which is just over five points better than first-timer Osmond.
"When I first heard the score, I was a little bit surprised," Kim said. "My first thought was perhaps my spin wasn't good enough (that) I got downgraded for that. However, on the screen, I checked and it wasn't really something I was expecting. In the end, I was a little surprised but I know I tried my best so I have no regret."
Kim was encouraged by how she fought to hold onto that wonky-feeling spin.
"I felt great, completing every element of the program," she said. "Now that I'm done for the day, I just want to relax and focus on getting myself back together for (Friday) so I can solely focus on my long program (for Saturday)."
Kostner has put herself in position to challenge Kim. She took time away from skating, too, but it wasn't to the same extent -- or attracted as much fanfare -- as the famous Korean.
"I just love it so much," Kostner said. "After 10 years on the senior circuit, I needed some time off to be a normal (26-year-old), having time for family and friends, waking up and staying in my pyjamas.
"I came back with new energy."
She'll need every bit of it to pass Kim and keep her title.