Most athletes at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are looking at financial gains for bringing home a gold medal but South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna could sustain huge losses if she does not.

Yuna has turned her top ranking in one of the Game's glamour sports into lucrative endorsement deals at home which Forbes magazine said brought her an estimated $8 million last year, making her one of the top-earning athletes in Vancouver.

Many of her biggest deals, including a contract with the Hyundai Motor Company, expire this year and marketing experts said may not be renewed if she fails to live up to expectations.

If she does not make it to the medal podium, her image could be tarnished with South Koreans blaming her for neglecting skating by spending too much time making TV commercials.

If she won silver or bronze medal, many Koreans would encourage or console her. However, if she can't receive any medal, there will be a strong backlash, said Lee Chang-sik, an expert on sports marketing at the South Korea communications firm KPR & Associates.

The world can see just how far the 19-year-old has travelled Tuesday in Vancouver when she begins her bid to become the first South Korean to win a Winter Olympics gold medal outside short track and speed skating.

Back in South Korea, she has already saturated the media.

She has appeared in 18 advertising campaigns for 14 companies and brands over the past year, according to local media.


These include Hyundai cars, Samsung mobile phones and air conditioners, cosmetics, yoghurt and a cameo in a government promotion to sell nuclear plants abroad.

The teen-ager is easily the most recognizable female athlete in South Korea, a country that boasts some of the world's best women golfers.

Her appeal comes from being a fresh young face at the top of a sport associated with grace, elegance and athleticism that has been long dominated by wealthy western countries and more recently South Korea's rival Japan, experts said.

Yuna, who speaks fluent English after years of training in Canada, is also a symbol of South Korea's emerging status as a global power which can challenge the best from Europe, North America and Japan.

If she wins a gold medal, she will become a global star, said KPR's Lee.