LONDON, Ontario — They should have divided the women's field at the World Championships into two flights, like a golf tournament.
One for Yuna Kim, and one for everyone else because the South Korean figure skater was a world ahead of her rivals in a championship flight of her own.
While her final score (218.31) was not as high as the one at the Olympics (228.56), this performance was just as impressive or more because it came in only her second significant event since winning in Vancouver and her first since finishing second at the 2011 worlds.
"I had a great long program today, and I am proud I could do it," Kim said.
Her free skate to "Les Miserables" included six flawless triple jumps (two in combination), passion if not outward facial emotion and a stunning command of everything she did in four minutes of flowing across the ice. She clapped a hand softly over her mouth at the end, while the sellout crowd at Budweiser Gardens clapped with a fervor that showed full awareness of the greatness it had witnessed.
"I was out of my mind," Kim said of her feeling at the end. "I don't know what to say. I am just happy."
Kostner finished with 197.89. Two-time world champion Mao Asada was third at 196.47.
Ashley Wagner (187.34) and Gracie Gold (184.25) were fifth and sixth, giving the U.S. three women's entries for next year's Olympics but extending their world medal drought to seven years — longest since 1937.
"Mission accomplished," Wagner said of earning the third spot for the first time since the 2007 worlds. "What we accomplished, with this strong international field, is more important than standing on top of that podium."
For Gold, 17, who lives in Elk Grove Village, it turned out to be an impressive world debut. She finished fifth in the free skate, beating Wagner, and bettered her previous personal best by more than nine points.
"For my first worlds, it was really important that I put out two strong skates," Gold said. I accomplished that."
Wagner, fourth last year, fell during a footwork sequence and looked painfully slow at times. Then she showed mettle by rallying from the fall to land her final jump, a triple flip.
"Some people get terrified when they fall," Wagner said. "For me, I go."
If she had not fallen on a triple jump as the program ended, Kostner might have put more pressure on Kim, 22, last of the 24 women to skate.
But, as Gold said, Kim "looks like she knows she is going to hit everything."
Kim was the only one in the free skate to do that, the only one who had all positive grades of execution on her 12 elements. Asada made four mistakes, Kostner two.
For Olympic gold medalists, making a comeback after time away from the sport has been as likely to produce disappointment as further distinction.
For every Evgeny Plushenko, who took three years off from competition after winning gold in 2006 and barely missed gold again in 2010, there is a Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko or Katarina Witt, none of whom could reach the podium in their return engagement.
Sometimes even the effort to regain peak form seems too much, as 2010 Olympic men's champion Evan Lysacek has learned, his body having said no twice to his planned return to competition this season following a two-year absence.
And Kim, known in her country as Queen Yuna, worried whether she had sufficient competitive preparation for an event like the World Championships.
Her winning performance in Thursday's short program belied those fears. Her free skate blew them — and all her rivals — away.
A second world title meant Kim has made the awards podium in all 30 of her international competitions, senior and junior, winning 21.
After winning the short program, Kim insisted adding to that remarkable record was not the only motivation in her comeback.
"The way I think about skating and how I feel and worry about competitions certainly changed," Kim said. "I don't feel the pressure that much anymore after winning the Olympic Games because I have accomplished all I wanted to.
"I don't focus on the results only. I just want to enjoy skating and the competition together. Still, I am a human being and I still want to try my best and get good results."
Another mission accomplished.