Injury-free short track veterans rejoin teamThe 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics gold medalist Lee Jung-soo and 2011-12 season Short Track World Championship champion Kwak Yoon-ki have returned to the national team after recovering from a series of injuries.
In the 2014-15 national short track team second-leg selection match at Mokdong Ice Rink in western Seoul on Sunday, Kwak scored a total of 24 points in a series of races to end up in sixth place overall, while Lee finished the races in eighth place with a total score of 15 points.
The top eight competitors will participate in the final races in September to determine the team’s six members.
After hurting his lower back in the middle of the 2011-12 season, Lee, 25, failed to make the national team in 2012-13.
In 2013-14, he finished seventh in the selection match, missing a berth on the team for the Sochi Olympic Games. At the time, the Korea Skating Union selected only the top five finishers. Kwak, also 25, was overall champion at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Short Track Speed Skating Championship in the 2011-12 season, but he suffered an ankle injury that later required the insertion of a metal pin. Kwak participated in the national team selection match for Sochi, but he finished eighth.
Analysts said having the two veterans would upgrade a men’s team that failed to medal in Sochi. Ahn Ki-won, father of Ahn Hyun-soo, now Viktor Ahn of Russia who won three gold medals at the Sochi Games, told Korean media during the Olympics, “If Korea had Lee and Kwak on the team, my son might have not won that many gold medals.”
In Sunday’s selection match, the skating union applied a new system announced in response to harsh criticism for their poor performance in Sochi and the loss of Ahn.
The national team selection matches, which are held only twice per season, have been expanded to three and the number of backup skaters expanded from six to eight. The other change is that the top eight skaters will compete in September. Two skaters will be eliminated from the team and the top six will represent Korea for the 2014-15 season.
“We used to finalize our roster five to six months before the season starts,” said Kim Gwan-kyu, spokesman of the skating union. “That system actually didn’t give injured players enough time to recover.”
BY KWON SANG-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]