Teen skating phenom on track for stardom

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Teen skating phenom on track for stardom

Shocks reverberated around the National Training Center in Nowon, Seoul last Monday as the results of the first 1,000-meter long-track preliminary race flashed across the scoreboard. And for good reason.

Kim Hyun-young, a 16-year-old speed-skater from Seohyun High School, beat Vancouver Winter Olympic gold medalist Lee Sang-hwa with a time of 1:20.13 at the National Sprint Speed Skating Championships. Kim finished 0.12 seconds faster than Lee.

“Sang-hwa was the overwhelming favorite coming into the race and she was furious with herself with the result,” said a Korean Skating Union official. “Lee was so mad that she threw her skates in the locker room.”

The following day, a more focused Lee would clock in at 1:19.78 in the second preliminary race, finishing ahead of Kim’s 1:20.06. Kim placed second, but still improved her time from the previous day by 0.07 seconds.

After putting up the best numbers of her young career, Kim has earned the right to compete for Korea at the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands next month.

“Sang-hwa’s specialty is the 500-meter event and I could tell she was not in her top physical condition that day,” said Kim, when asked about her win over the Olympic champion. “I can’t really say that I beat her.

“However, my parents were really happy with the result. My mom cried and my father offered to buy me anything that I wanted. He actually bought me a smartphone. I know I’m still young, but I want to someday compete against Sang-hwa when she’s at her best and come out on top.”

Kim got her start in speed skating in the sixth grade. She was always athletic, taking up kendo, taekwondo, and swimming as a youngster. She entered speed skating when her uncle, Oh Hui-wan, a former national hockey team player, took Kim to a local rink.

“My uncle said because I was a good in-line skater, I should give speed skating a try,” she said. “It was fun and I’ve been skating ever since. At first, I had no intention of skating competitively, but I steadily improved as time progressed.”

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics was a historic event for Korea when Lee, Mo Tae-bum and Lee Seung-hoon became the country’s first gold medalists in long-track. The sport received a lot of attention during and after the games.

“I noticed a lot of things while watching the Winter Games in Vancouver,” said Kim. “The public went wild once our skaters started winning gold medals. I was envious of Sang-hwa, Tae-bum and Seung-hoon. I wanted to be the center of public attention like them.”

Kim is currently in Harbin, China competing in the Asia regional competition for a spot in the 2011 ISU World All-around Speed Skating Championships in Calgary, Canada. The confident Kim has her eyes set on making her way to Calgary in February with solid results in Harbin.

“I will showcase my abilities to earn good results at this regional event [in Harbin], so that I can shock the world with good results,” said Kim.

By On Nu-ri [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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