SOCHI, Russia ― The International Olympic Committee denied knowledge Saturday of a ban keeping South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim from wearing her favorite pair of earrings when she competes in Sochi.
South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim would not wear the distinctive earrings she sported on the way to clinching gold in Vancouver four years ago because of the IOC's branding rules.
"We were told that Kim will not be allowed to promote anything from Jan. 30 to Feb. 30," a spokesman for jewelry company J. Estina told Chosun Ilbo.
The IOC has tight regulations on sponsorship, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from "official partners," and has set measures to exclude athletes from promoting rival brands. But when asked by Yahoo Sports if Kim is forbidden from wearing the earrings, an IOC spokesperson said "it seems like nobody is aware of such an issue."
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J. Estina experienced a huge spike in sales after Kim wore a set of silver crown earrings with various decorations throughout the figure skating events in Vancouver.
She has a commercial endorsement deal with the company and has promoted their products in photo shoots and at public events in South Korea and abroad.
Kim is the favorite to retain her Olympic gold but faces competition from rising star Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia, Vancouver silver medalist Mao Asada from Japan and European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy.
The 2018 Games are set to be held in Kim's home country, in the city of Pyeongchang, but she has insisted this will be her last Olympics. She is certain to be the center of attention when the ladies' individual starts on Feb. 19.
J. Estina is the jewelry division of watchmaker Romanson. Its CEO admitted that the IOC's decision hurts the company's marketing efforts.
"The three kinds of earrings Kim wore in the short, free and gala programs sold like hotcakes," Kim Ki-moon told the newspaper. "For a small- or medium-sized company like us, becoming an official Olympic partner is pie in the sky."
Kim is one of the most marketable female athletes in the world and has a string of endorsement deals in her homeland. Electronics firm Samsung and automaker Hyundai both featured her in expansive advertising campaigns before and after the last Winter Olympics.
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Such is Kim's level of popularity in South Korea that her every move since arriving in Sochi on Wednesday has been scrutinized and analyzed in that country's media. With such a high level of expectation, Kim admitted that staying focused would be her most important challenge.
"I know people are interested in my chances of repeating as Olympic champion, but I am not paying attention to that," she told reporters. "Whatever happens, I will accept the result without regret.
"I may get distracted if I keep thinking about this being my last competition. To me, it will be just another event. Like I have done all along, I will try to concentrate on the task at hand and then I will feel relieved at the end of it all."
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