Joy turns to sadness for skater

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Joy turns to sadness for skater


Woo Hyo-sook raises her arms in celebration after placing first in the women’s elimination-and-point speed roller skating finals at the Guangzhou Veladrome early yesterday. [YONHAP]

GUANGZHOU, China - In the immediate moments following her elimination-and-point speed roller skating win at the Asian Games, Woo Hyo-sook circled the tracks of the Guangzhou Veladrome with the Korean flag draped around her shoulders, sobbing uncontrollably.

Woo won the gold for Korea, but was given an immediate shock when she was told after the race by her coach that her ailing grandmother had died last Friday. The news was kept from Woo by her family and coach so she could compete without worry.

“I want to dedicate my gold medal to my sick grandmother,” Woo said after the race about her grandmother, who suffered a stroke a few years ago and has spent the last few years in hospitals.

Woo placed first in the women’s elimination-and-point speed roller skating finals by scoring a total of 31 points to edge Guo Dan of China - 20 points - at the Guangzhou Veladrome early yesterday.

“It’s sad,” Woo said. “A moment ago, I was happy with the thought of giving the gold medal to my grandmother. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her because of my obligations to the national team. I wanted to be by her side once the Asian Games came to an end.”

Woo is one of the most dominant female inline skaters in the world but has not receive much media attention over the years. Inline skating was included at the 2010 Asiad for the first time and has yet to be included in the Olympics, making it difficult for an athlete like Woo to receive media attention.

In one such rare case, inline skater Kuck Chae-yi gained national prominence a few years ago for her good looks. Kuck won Korea’s first inline skating gold at the 2001 World Junior Championships. Her uncommon surname and good looks drew large public interest and she shot to stardom. She was featured in several advertisements, which is rare for an athlete competing in less popular sports like roller skating.

But unlike Kuck, Woo did not have it so easy. She entered her first youth competition as a sixth-grader at Sokkyo Elementary School in Chungju, North Chungcheong, and placed dead last. Woo then attended Ilshin Girls’ Middle School and honed her game through a strong work ethic.

“When our coach hollered at us to complete 100 sets of circuit-training exercises, my teammates would often look for an easy way out, but I completed all the steps,” Woo said.

Despite the lack of recognition at home, Woo is an accomplished athlete in her sport. She won three golds at the 2008 World Championships, two at the 2009 competition and two more at the 2010 event.

Woo and her teammates have been performing well at the 2010 Guangzhou Asiad with Son Geun-seong winning the men’s elimination-and-point speed roller skating finals yesterday. An Yi-seul also won a gold in the women’s 300-meter time-trial race finals on Tuesday.

Despite the strong start, Woo and her teammates face another challenge. Roller sports was included at this Asiad for the first time, but there is a strong possibility the sport will be dropped at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

“I need to perform well so the younger athletes don’t have to worry [about it being dropped],” said Woo.

By Lee Jung-chan []
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