Kazakhstan doesn’t have a rich history of figure skating. Denis Ten finished 11th at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. A few years later, Ten landed on the podium at the 2013 World Championships with a silver medal – a first for the country.
In 2014, he became the first skater from Kazakhstan to win an Olympic medal. He won a surprise bronze behind gold and silver winners Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan, edging Spain’s Javier Fernandez by about two and a half points. He also won a Worlds bronze medal in 2015.
In more recent seasons, Ten has struggled due to injury. In the past two seasons alone, he has dealt with ankle, back and hip injuries. He began the Olympic season with a “critical” injury to three ligaments in his right ankle while skating in a show in South Korea. He spent a week in a wheelchair and used crutches afterward. He completed his rehab in Seoul and started the season at a small competition in France before starting on the Grand Prix circuit. He only managed to place ninth in Moscow, but improved to eighth at the Grand Prix in France. His biggest international competition so far this season was the Four Continents Championships, where placed 15th.
Competing in PyeongChang at the Olympics is personal for Ten, however. He is a descendent of Min Keung Ho, a famous general who fought for Korean independence. There is a statue and memorial of Ten’s great-grandfather just 35 miles from PyeongChang in Wonju.
“When I was young, I was very hot-tempered and often fought with the children in the kindergarten and primary school,” Ten said to Ice Network in 2012, and mentioned he got in a fight his first day on the ice with another boy his age. “At that moment, I did not know that I am a descendant of the great general, so I sincerely believe that his spirit is in me and I genetically inherited his warlike qualities. But in reality, of course, those children "skirmishes" were only for fun, but it influenced the decision of my mother to put me in the creative activities and sports sections. She wanted me to reveal the creative potential and took me to the schools of dance, arts, painting, music and figure skating.”
Ten won his first international medal in South Korea, but not in sports. He took home a silver medal from the 2002 Choir Olympics held in Busan.
Originally, Ten planned to retire from competitive figure skating after the 2014 Olympics. But his ancestral connection to South Korea motivated him to see it through.
“I stayed for one year and I set my goals to compete in Korea because Korea is not a foreign place for me,” he said in another, more recent interview. “It’s a country that has a specific spiritual bond, a very touching connection with my heart and my family history. I really look forward to competing there. I know that a lot of my friends and a part of my family is going to be there. It’s basically my second hometown. I really want to go there and do my best.”