Lee sets Olympic record in surprise speed skate win

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Lee sets Olympic record in surprise speed skate win


South Korean speed skater Lee Seung-hoon

Lee Seung-hoon powered to a surprise victory in the men's 10,000-meter speed skating event at the Richmond Olympic Oval early yesterday.

The 21-year-old crossed the finish line in 12 minutes and 58.55 seconds, winning the gold medal and setting a new Olympic record in the process. Sven Kramer of the Netherlands was the strong favorite to win the race and had finished over four full seconds ahead of Lee with a time of 12 minutes and 54.50 seconds, but he was disqualified for failing to switch lanes during the 17th lap.

"It's all a miracle," said the bewildered Lee in a post-race interview. "It's a miracle that I set an Olympic record but I can't believe that Kramer was disqualified."

The gold is the first for an Asian skater in a long-distance speed skating event, and comes on the heels of Lee's silver medal-winning performance in the 5,000-meter race on Feb. 14.

What makes the win all the more shocking is that Lee is a newcomer to the long-track race. Having skated in short-track events throughout his career, Lee failed to make the final cut at the short-track national team tryouts in April last year. After making the switch to speed skating last July, he competed in the 10,000-meter event twice prior to the Vancouver Winter Games.

At the national championships on Christmas Eve, Lee finished first with a time of 14 minutes and 1.64 seconds, and set the Korean record with a time of 13 minutes and 21.04 seconds at the Asian championships in Hokkaido, Japan, last month.

Skating without any pressure, Lee posted an eye-popping time in the 10,000-meter event, finishing a lap ahead of Arjen van de Kieft. In a race consisting of 25 laps around the 400-meter oval rink, it is rare for a skater to push for a final spurt in the latter stages. However, Lee's 30.29 seconds in his last lap was the fastest time of his race.

It is imperative for skaters in the long-distance events to have endurance and pace themselves well throughout the race. Lee's improbable time in the final lap is a testament to his strong work ethic.

"European skaters have a physical advantage. It's just not easy to keep up with their long strides," explained Lee. "Hence, it becomes imperative for us to maintain a low posture, but this takes a lot of strength. We worked tirelessly on speed and endurance training throughout the summer last year."

Although Lee shocked a lot of people by placing second in the 5,000-meter event behind Kramer, Lee was not projected to reach the podium in the 10,000-meter event. The Dutch champion had posted a time of 12 minutes and 55.32 seconds at the World Single Distance Championships at the Richmond Olympic Oval last year.

"I was unaware of Kramer's mistake until my coach told me about it. It still feels good to have won a gold medal. When my place switched from second to first, I nearly lost my mind.

"I gave it my all in the race and I would like to compete against Kramer and beat him," stated Lee.

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

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