DORTMUND, Germany - Kim Yu-na made a triumphant return after her 19-month sabbatical from competition by posting the season's highest score with a flawless short program routine at the NRW Trophy on Saturday.
Kim, the Olympic champion, produced a performance of exceptional elegance and grace to soar to 72.27 points and leave fans eagerly anticipating Sunday's free skate.
"I made one mistake, but overall I was satisfied with my performance," she said with typical modesty. "Well, instead of a mistake, it was more of a little twitch. Overall, I'm satisfied."
Mao Asada of Japan achieved the season's previous best of 67.95 at the NHK Trophy last month. Earlier Saturday, Asada won the Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia.
Kim hadn't competed since the world championships in Moscow in April 2011, leading to unprecedented demand for tickets to the second-tier event, which sold out within two hours.
There was also security at the modest 200-capacity venue for the first time. There had been no need for it before in the years since the NRW Trophy was first sanctioned by the International Skating Union in 2007.
Known in her South Korean homeland as "Queen Yu-na," the 22-year-old Kim is competing to ensure qualification for next year's worlds.
Russia's Xenia Makarova was second, on 59.55, while Mae-Berenice Meite of France finished third, on 54.56.
But most of the fans had eyes only for Kim, who holds world records in the short program (78.50) free skate (150.06) and combined total (228.56) from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Even during the warm-up, every move she made was cheered loudly, with fans holding up South Korean flags and banners to show their support.
"There was such a huge amount of anticipation from the fans and everybody. I was kind of afraid of whether or not I'd be able to match their anticipation," Kim said.
A shower of teddy bears rained onto the rink after she completed a sublime routine including a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, three level-three spins and a triple flip performed to "The Kiss of the Vampire" from the soundtrack to the 1963 film of the same name.
"But I'm not a vampire. I play the role of a girl who is bitten by a vampire," Kim said.
Her free skate will be performed to a compilation of songs from "Les Miserables."
On Sunday, she needs at least 48 points to ensure she qualifies for the worlds in London, Ontario.
"As you know, if you're too nervous, you don't know what scores you're going to be making," Kim said in comments translated. "Instead of focusing on total scores, I tried concentrating on technical aspects. In my head actually, I kept focusing on the fact that you cannot make mistakes. But overall, I'm pretty satisfied with the score I got today."
Kim sat out the 2011-12 season as she mulled over her future. She announced in July she would return this year and retire after the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Then in October, she reunited with two of her childhood coaches, Shin Hye-sook and Ryu Jong-hyun, after parting ways with her American coach of two years Peter Oppegard.
She still works with Canadian choreographer David Wilson.
"Right now I just want to focus on the events of today and tomorrow. There's a lot of work to do. Sochi is next season," said Kim, who confirmed she would compete once more at the South Korean championships before going onto the worlds.