‘Roller fairy’ racing toward star statusAcross Pyeongchon Jungang Park in Anyang, someone approaches, moving lightning quick. As a young woman glides into view, her gleaming eyes and beaming face are the first things one notices.
Kuok Chae-yi, 17 ― who won two gold medals in the junior competition of the 2004 World Speed Skating Championship in Sulmona, Italy this month ― lives up to her billing as the “roller blade fairy.” The only difference is that this fairy wears a skintight racing suit instead of a dress and flies with rollerblades rather than wings.
“After I won gold medals at the championship, people started to recognize me,” Kuok said. “I feel excited because it is also a boost for rollerblading.”
Kuok won five medals, including two golds, at the championships, which marked the last time she would compete as a junior. Her striking beauty combined with her skating achievements make her a hit with fans; more than 13,000 are now registered at her Web site.
Her family name, Kuok, also draws attention. According to the 2000 population census, there are only 248 people in Korea registered under that name.
After her victories in Italy though, her last name has become famous. “When I was young, other children teased me because of that last name, but I like the fact now many people remember it. My older relatives compliment me for bringing honor to our family.”
She has been a star in the Korean rollerblading scene for some time, although it’s only recently that she rose to mainstream stardom. A sports-goggle maker created a brand named after her. She even has a manager.
“Appearance and family name are not important. I want to be recognized for being an athlete,” Kuok said.
Kuok started rollerblading in 1998 when she was in the fourth grade. “During the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, I fell in love with short-track gold medalist Jeon Lee-gyeong. I joined the rollerblading club in our school. At that time, I was already 160 centimeters (5 feet, 3 inches).”
She won her first gold medal in her second year in middle school, in 2001 at the World Speed Skating Championship in France.
Now Kuok practices five hours a day in preparation for the National Sports Competition next month. Weight training is in the morning and track practice is in the afternoon.
And what about her fingernails, which are painted a bright pink?
“I won gold medals in 2001 and 2002 when painted my nails, but when I didn’t do it last year, I didn’t win. So this year, I painted my nails for good luck,” Kuok said.
by Kang Hye-ran