By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- At age 21 and with his first world championship medal in the bag, South Korean figure skater Cha Jun-hwan believes the best is yet to come.
Cha made a piece of South Korean figure skating history on Saturday. By winning silver in the men's singles at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, Cha became the first South Korean man to reach the podium at the annual competition.
Cha set new personal best scores in the short program (99.64), the free skate (196.39) and the combined total points (296.03).
"I didn't think about medals or scores. I just wanted to execute things that I had practiced," Cha told reporters at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul on Monday, with the silver medal around his neck. "And I was extremely satisfied because I was able to do just that. I was a bit surprised with how high my free skate score was. But more so than the score, I was just so happy to have done everything I'd worked on."
Cha had an up-and-down 2022-2023 season, which included a pair of bronze medals at ISU Grand Prix events, a national title, and a disappointing fourth-place showing at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships last month.
Asked where he'd most like to improve going forward, Cha said, "Everything."
"I'd like to get better technically, but at the same time, it's important to have quality execution of all technical elements," Cha said. "I don't want to push myself too hard and try to do too much. I want to do the best I can while staying within myself."
Cha landed two clean quadruple jumps in his free skate -- quadruple salchow and quadruple toe loop -- and ideally, he would add another quad jump and also do a quadruple-triple combination jump.
More technically accomplished skaters, such as the world bronze medalist from the United States, Ilia Malinin, attempt as many as six quadruple jumps in their free program.
"Ultimately, I would have to add a quad-triple combination and a new quad jump, but I wasn't able to work on them in the middle of this season," Cha said. "I had to first make sure I could execute what I already have with consistent quality. But I've been working on new jumps over the past couple of offseasons, and I will continue to do that. I will go at it at my own pace."
Cha's silver followed a silver medal by fellow South Korean Lee Hae-in in the women's singles on Friday, the first time South Korea produced two medalists at a single world championship.
Cha, who finished fifth at the Beijing Winter Olympics last year, looks poised to become a medal threat at the next Winter Games in Italy in 2026.
No South Korean man has won an Olympic figure skating medal.
"Everytime I hear the word Olympics, it gets my heart pumping. And I think I finished the first season in the new Olympic cycle really well," Cha said. "But I won't start thinking about the Olympics right away. I will keep pushing myself to get better, and hopefully, I will move closer to realizing my dreams (of winning an Olympic medal)."