7 golds is the Olympic target

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7 golds is the Olympic target

Korea is well on its way to its best-ever finish at the Winter Olympics. With six days of competition remaining in Vancouver, Korea sits in sixth place in the medal standings with four gold, four silver and one bronze as of yesterday.

While in the past Korea relied solely on its short-track speed skating squad for its medals, surprise performances from Mo Tae-bum, Lee Sang-hwa and Lee Seung-hoon of the speed skating team have the country ahead of its medal count as projected before the start of the Olympics. While one or two gold medals were expected in the speed skating events, Korea earned two gold medals and two silvers from the long track to start the Vancouver Games.

At its current rate, Korea bodes fair to exceed its pre-Olympics goal of five gold medals and a top 10 finish in the medal standings. With less than a week of competition remaining, Korea has a good shot at earning an additional three gold medals and a chance of two more silvers.

Considering the competitor rankings and projected finishes, Korea could end the Vancouver Winter Games with seven gold, six silver and one bronze medal - a total of 14 medals. Taking into consideration the final medal standings from the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, the seven golds and 14 total would be good enough for a sixth-place finish. Korea earned six gold, three silver and two bronze medals in Turin, all in short-track speed skating events except for Lee Kang-seok’s bronze in the men’s 500-meter speed skating race.

Leading off for Korea in the final stretch is figure skater and poster girl Kim Yu-na. The top-ranked skater is to perform in the women’s short program today and in the free-skating program on Friday. Having dominated her competition at three International Skating Union events, Kim is a strong favorite for a gold medal.

Lee Seung-hoon, a surprise silver medalist in the men’s 5,000-meter speed skating event, will look to earn his second medal in the 10,000-meter event. While Lee isn’t projected to finish in the top three, he is coming off his shocking performance in the 5,000 meters, in which he became the first Asian skater to medal in a long-distance speed skating event.

The women’s short-track team will look to earn its first gold medal in the 3,000-meter relay tomorrow. While the Korean squad has won four consecutive gold medals in the event, the Chinese are the team with a target on its back this time around. Cho Ha-ri, Park Seung-hi, Lee Eun-byul, Kim Min-jung and Choi Jung-won will look to secure Korea’s fifth consecutive gold in what is expected to be an intense final.

“We want to earn a gold medal to continue to the streak to five consecutive golds,” Cho Ha-ri said in an interview with the Korean media.

Cho Ha-ri and Park Seung-hi will also look to earn Korea’s first gold for women’s short-track speed skating individual performance at the 1,000-meter event on Saturday.

The men’s short-track team, on the other hand, will look to continue its dominance in the 500-meter and 5,000-meter relays on Saturday. Korea is favored to win the gold medal in both events. Sung Si-bak is the top-ranked skater in the 500-meter event. This is the last chance for both Sung and Lee Ho-suk to earn an gold medal in an individual event, and it should provide for a fierce competition between the two. Although two-time gold medalist Lee Jung-su was scheduled to compete in the event as well, he will be saved for the relay which is taking place on the same day.

“Lee Ho-suk, Sung Si-bak and Kwak Yoon-gy will compete in the men’s 500-meter event on Saturday,” an announcement released by the national team yesterday stated. “Two-time gold medalist Lee Jung-su has been excluded from the event due to his mediocre start compared to his teammates.”

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