Short-track star seeks more records to breakEighteen-year-old short track speed skater Choi Eun-kyung develops a rash on her face whenever she gets emotionally strained before taking part in a competition.
Ms. Choi is all smiles, but she is one tough competitor. She swept the women’s individual races and the relay at the 2005 Winter Universiade held in Innsbruck, Austria last month, winning five gold medals. Ms. Choi then went on to win the 1,000 meters at the Short Track World Cup 2005 in Budapest, Hungary early this month. The young skater is also a Winter Olympics medalist, having taken a gold and bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002.
“Even when practicing, I try not to lose. If I get used to going under in practice, I might lose confidence in a real race,” she said.
Ms. Choi stands 165 centimeters (5 feet 4 inches) tall and weighs 61 kilograms (134 pounds). She was changing her sweat-soaked pants and her thighs were as thick as lumber, measuring 22 inches, thicker than that of some male skaters.
“Since I was a child, I have had strong thighs. I didn’t get sick a lot. Still, my fitness is what I am most proud of,” Ms. Choi said.
Because of her innate physical strength, she dominates 1,000 and 1,500 meter short track racing, which requires exceptional muscular strength and stamina.
Unexpectedly, she also won the 500 meter race at Innsbruck by getting her skate ahead of her opponent, who had an early lead, by 0.009 of a second.
“I practice like I am in an actual race to prepare for that kind of situation,” Ms. Choi noted. “Prior to the race, I repeatedly imagine winning the competition as a part of my mental training.”
After Ms. Choi won five gold medals at the Winter Universiade, she feels that an emotional burden has been lifted. The burden was because of “physical abuse” by previous coaches that was revealed last November.
Female short track skaters, including Ms. Choi, walked out from the training camp in protest over poor treatment by the coaches. When the scandal was over, she trained even harder because she wanted to do better.
“I did not expect it to become so sensational. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to compete again,” Ms. Choi recalled.
It took eight years for Ms. Choi to blow the whistle. Since she joined the national team’s reserve squad when she was a middle school freshman in 1997, she led the routines every day. Only on weekends and during a three-week-long spring break were skaters allowed to leave the training camp. Every morning and afternoon, she took part in group training. Weight training was scheduled at night. Sacrificing her social life, she never had a blind date, which is common for a girl of her age.
Her only hobby is cross-stitching and making dolls. Ms. Choi said she started it “to get rid of idle thoughts,” but her skills improved enough to call it “handicraft.”
Two weeks are enough to finish a piece. Teddy bears are her favorite, she says, adding that they are simple to make.
Ms. Choi has made one large enough to hold in her arms and now has more than 30. “I give them to friends as gifts or use them to decorate my empty-looking room in the camp,” she said.
Ms. Choi first started skating following her elder sister’s lead when she was in her first year at Yongji Elementary School in Daegu. It was a turning point that changed the fate of an ordinary girl.
Her sister quit, but the more resilient younger Ms. Choi continued to do well and entered her middle school with a special admission as an athlete. She joined the national team a year later and came to Seoul.
Now, her mother, living in Namyangju, Gyeonggi province, takes care of her, while her father lives in Daegu, taking care of his business. Her elder sister went to Paris last year to study.
Ms. Choi is now in her prime and her aim is clear. “My biggest goal is to win a gold medal in the individual competitions at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics and I want to win for a third time in the individual competitions in the World Short-Track Speedskating Championship in March.” She was the winner in both the 2003 and 2004 championships.
Then, she said she wants to go abroad and receive a formal educations in sports. “I always regret that I missed studying because of training.”
by Kang Hye-ran, Limb Jae-un