Young skaters are setting a new pace

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Young skaters are setting a new pace

New faces have emerged for the Korean speed skating teams at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, with younger members of the speed skating team producing four medals for Korea last week. But the short-track team is also getting a boost from its youngsters making their Olympic debut in Vancouver.

Lee Jung-su, 20, of Dankuk University became Korea’s first two-time gold medalist by winning his second gold medal in the short-track 1,000-meter finals yesterday. Having won the 1,500-meter event on Feb. 14, Lee has now established himself among former short-track speed skating greats such as Kim Ki-hoon, Kim Dong-sung and Ahn Hyun-soo.

“This gold medal is like a dream come true,” said Lee at a press conference. “I was a little alarmed at the start of the race because the pace was not to my liking. When Lee Ho-suk started his spurt, it gave me an opportunity to move to the front of the pack.”

While Lee was ranked first at the World Cup in both the 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter events this year, much of the focus had been on veterans Lee Ho-suk and Sung Si-bak prior to the start of the Olympics. Lee Ho-suk had placed second in both his events behind Ahn, a three-time gold medalist at the Turin Winter Games, and was expected to replace the injured Ahn as the new leader of the men’s speed skating team. However, Lee Jung-su has clearly emerged as the new face of men’s short-track speed skating.

“I don’t usually like being in the spotlight. The camera makes me feel dizzy,” said Lee. “However, it feels good to be in front of the cameras today.”

Lee Eun-byul, 18, earned her spot on the national team last year after an impressive career in the junior ranks. With star skater Jin Sun-yu out with an injury, the women’s short-track team was significantly weaker. Coming off a 500-meter event in which no Korean female skater managed to advance to the finals, Lee garnered the silver in the 1,500-meter event, the Korean women’s short-track team’s first medal of the Vancouver Games.

“It feels great to have won a medal at my first Olympics. There are so many people I want to thank,” she said at a press conference. However, Lee went on to show her disappointment over losing to a Chinese skater in an event Korean skaters have dominated in the past.

Park Seung-hi, 17, added an unexpected bronze in the 1,500-meter yesterday. She was tabbed early on as the next big name in short-track skating when she made the national team as a 15-year-old and went on to win the International Skating Union World Cup in Kobe, Japan in October 2007.

The young skaters may add to their medal totals later this week. Lee Jung-su is expected to win his third gold medal in the men’s 5,000-meter relay event on Saturday, while Lee Eun-byul and Park are set to compete in the women’s 3,000-meter relay on Thursday.

“We are expecting good results,” said Park.


By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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