Koreans score a golden weekend on the rink and at the golf courseIn what was one of the most successful sporting weekends in recent memory for sports fans here, Korean athletes brought home news of triumph from three different continents.
Over in Europe, where the Italian city of Turin is hosting the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, Korea’s short track speed skaters won two gold and two silver medals. The nation has now three golds and three silvers to go along with a bronze, and is ranked fifth overall in the medal standings.
The dynamic duo of Ahn Hyun-soo and Lee Ho-suk, the gold and silver medallists from the men’s 1,500-meter race, were at it again in the 1,000-meter race Sunday. Both breezed through their qualifying heats, finishing first in all races en route to the final.
In the final, Ahn and Lee started out slowly, but both put on superbly clinical last-minute charges. Ahn took the lead for good with three laps to go, and Lee, who had been last in the five-man race, made an impressive jump ahead of the pack on the inside to take second on the second-to-last lap.
In the 1,500 meters, Lee appeared to let Ahn move past him in the final lap when he could easily have stayed ahead, and in the 1,000 meters, Lee came awfully close again in the last corner but appeared to let up before losing out to Ahn by less than three hundredths of a second in another one-two finish. Ahn’s time of 1:26.739 was a new Olympic record.
With this gold, Ahn became the first Korean Winter Olympic athlete since another short track speed skater Kim Ki-hoon from the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics to win two gold medals at an Olympics. Ahn, with the 5,000-meter relay and 500-meter race still on his slate, is aiming to become the first athlete ever to win four short track speed skating gold medals at one Olympics.
The U.S. skater Apolo Anton Ohno was second midway through the nine-lap race behind China’s Li Ye, but later admitted he couldn’t keep up with the Koreans. He had to settle for winning a bronze medal, his first of this Winter Games, after stumbling in a semifinal heat of the 1,500-meter race last week and failing to reach the final.
On the women’s side, the Korean team’s ace Jin Sun-yu overcame a disappointing, no-medal performance in the 500 meters by capturing gold in the 1,500-meter final. Her teammate and the eldest member of the squad Choi Eun-kyung won the silver.
Another Korean skater, Byun Chun-sa, finished the 13.5-lap race in third place, but in what was at best a questionable call, was disqualified for impeding China’s Wang Meng, who came in at fourth but was awarded the bronze medal.
Korean women skaters stayed in the middle of the seven-skater race until, with just five laps remaining, Choi jumped to the top of the pack. With two laps to go, Jin made an improbable jump from sixth to first with a burst of speed around corners.
The victory was especially sweet for Jin, who was counted on to end the Chinese dominance in the 500-meter race but failed to make it through the quarterfinals when she was tangled up at the start and never recovered. The 17-year-old appeared cool, calm and collected this time around, and proved why she’s the world’s No. 1 in the 1,500 meters with outstanding cornering work.
On much greener pastures in Hawaii, the Ladies Professional Golf Association opened a new season, and it was the same old story for Korean golfers.
The season-opening SBS Open ― with the Korean broadcaster as the title sponsor ― featured five golfers with the last name Kim, and it was the 21-year-old Kim Joo-mi, perhaps the least known of them all, who emerged victorious over her compatriot Moon Soo-young at the Turtle Bay Resort Golf Club.
The two Koreans, along with Mexican Lorena Ochoa, had reached a sudden death playoff after they were tied at 10-under after three rounds. Ochoa was eliminated in the first playoff hole after missing a six-foot birdie putt, while Kim and Moon made theirs.
In the second playoff hole, Kim hit a spectacular wedge shot from 80 yards to just inches from the hole. After Moon missed a 10-foot downhill putt, Kim converted the short putt to clinch her first career LPGA victory.
Last season, Korean golfers won a combined seven tournaments, including two major titles, but the first didn’t come until May, when Kang Ji-min won the LPGA Corning Classic.
In more victorious golfing news, Charlie Wi, whose Korean name is Chang-soo, edged Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee by one stroke to win the Professional Golfer Association European Tour’s Maybank Malaysian Open, held at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. It was an event co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, meaning the win is both an Asian Tour and a European Tour victory for Wi.
The tournament was cut to three rounds after storm delays from earlier in the week, and yet Wi put on a number usually seen at full 72-hole events. The 34-year-old, who began the round three shots off the pace set by Welshman David Park, shot 19-under par, including a blistering third round of a nine-under 63 that featured four key birdies on the back nine, which catapulted him to top of the jam-packed leaderboard.
Wi is the second Korean to win on the European Tour after Choi Kyoung-ju won the 2003 Linde German Masters.
by Yoo Jee-ho