[SPORTS STAR]The champion’s road: Icy tracks to green fields

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[SPORTS STAR]The champion’s road: Icy tracks to green fields


Chun Lee-kyung is a sports-aholic. This short-track speed skater turned golf instructor turned ice hockey team forward has indeed played many games, and even serves on the Athletes Commission of the International Olympic Committee.
But one thing she hasn’t been is a wife.
“I would love to get married, for sure,” said the 29-year-old. “But I just have so many things on my plate right now.”
Judging by the last six years of her life, it’s hard to argue with her.
After retiring in 1999 from a stellar short track speed skating career, during which she won four gold medals in two Winter Olympics, Chun dabbled at golf. She began playing in earnest in 2001, and within three months, became a scratch golfer.
In 2003, Chun became a part-time member of Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association through its semi-professional qualifying tournament, and also worked as a teaching professional at a driving range in Gangnam, southern Seoul.
However, she began suffering from left shoulder problems that would eventually force her to put away her clubs. The energetic Chun has always had an insatiable desire for action, and so had to find an outlet for her athletic vigor. She did so where she had spent much of her athletic career ― the ice.
Five months ago, she laced up her ice hockey skates for the Pit Bulls, a recreational hockey club in Seoul. In addition to the apparent connection between short track skating and hockey, Chun had a little more experience with her latest sport.
“When I was on the short track national team, our coach [Chun Myung-kyu] would let us play non-contact hockey with tennis balls every Thursday,” she said. “I remember waiting for Thursdays every week because the training was so hard.”
While hockey was just a diversion in the past, it is now just as important to Chun as short track speed skating. She was recently named to the women’s national ice hockey team through an open tryout.
“She’s a tremendous skater, and has great passion for the game,” said Park Hyun-wook, the team’s head coach. “I’d like to put her on left wing.”
Everything in Chun’s life has been about speed, from becoming the youngest member on the national short track speed skating team to the quick adjustments she made to new sports such as golf and hockey.
It’s no wonder then she arrived in the world faster than normal.
Chun was born prematurely, weighing merely 1.7 kilograms (3.8 pounds). She was a weak child growing up, and one day a doctor recommended she start playing sports.
The rest, as they say, is history.
She only started speed skating in the fifth grade, but was good enough to be named to the national squad the following year, becoming the youngest member of the team.
At the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, the then 18-year-old Chun captured gold medals in the 1,000-meter individual race and 3,000-meter relay in short track. In the next Winter Games in Nagano four years later, she repeated the feat in the same classes, becoming the first Korean athlete to win four Olympic gold medals, winter or summer.
The key to such a quick rise through the ranks was her enthusiasm.
“The more different sports I played, the more I grew to like them,” Chun reflected. “Now, if I stay idle, I literally get sick. I have to be constantly in motion, doing something.”
For someone who’s spent so much time on ice, Chun now wants a warm-hearted man. But she admits she’s never even gone out on a blind date.
As she said, she does have a lot of other things on her mind.
“If the opportunity arises,” Chun said, lifting a hockey stick, “I would like to play in the Winter Olympics again.”

by Sung Baik-you
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