Concerns remain as the countdown to Beijing 2022 begins
The 100-day countdown for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics began Wednesday, but questions still remain over Korea's chances at the Games as injuries, scandals and even a defection could seriously impact the national team's performance.
The Beijing Olympics will be held from Feb. 4 to 20, just six months after the closing ceremony of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Games in August. The Beijing Games mark the first time since 1992 that the winter and summer Games have been held within six months — until 1992, the Summer and Winter Games were always held in the same year.
The Beijing Olympics also rounds off the Asian swing of the Games that started with the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The next Olympics will be the 2024 Paris Games.
Fifteen winter sports will be competed at the Beijing Games: Alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, luge, Nordic combined, short-track speed skating, skeleton, ski jumping, speed skating and snowboarding.
Korea's biggest focus at the Winter Games has long been short-track speed skating. Korea is a short track powerhouse, with a world-leading 24 Olympic gold medals, well ahead of No. 2 China's 10.
At the PyeongChang Olympics, Korea added three gold medals with Lim Hyo-jun winning gold in the men's 1,500-meter event and Choi Min-jeong, Shim Suk-hee, Kim A-lang, Kim Ye-jin and Lee Yu-bin winning the women's 5000-meter relay gold. Choi added another individual gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter race but was disqualified from the 500-meter race and crashed out of the 1,000-meter event after colliding with compatriot Shim.
But things aren't looking good for the upcoming Beijing Games, with three of the winningest members of the short-track team caught up in scandals or injury that either completely remove them from the equation or raise worrying questions about their ability to compete.
Just more than a year after Lim became a national hero for winning the Olympic gold medal on home turf, he was banned from the men's short-track team in June of 2019 after allegedly pulling down the pants of a fellow skater during a rock climbing training session at Jincheon National Training Center, exposing the male teammate while female skaters were present.
Lim responded to the ban by defecting to China — following in the footsteps of former Korean start Victor An who naturalized to Russia in 2011 — and obtained Chinese nationality in June last year. But while Lim's apparent reason for naturalizing to China was to compete at the Beijing Games, that plan went awry as he was apparently unaware of International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules that state that represent a new country at the Olympics, at least three years must have passed since the competitor last represented their former country.
Lim last represented Korea in March of 2019 and therefore cannot represent China until March of 2022. There is an exception to the clause that says Lim may compete with the permission of the national Olympic committees and international federations concerned, in this case the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee.
However, the Korean Sports & Olympic Committee stated that the Chinese national team did not contact them asking for permission for Lim to participate at the Games before Oct. 10, which was the deadline.
Lim isn't the only star of PyeongChang that may have to sit out the games. Concerns have been raised recently over the 2018 collision between Choi and Shim after a series of text messages Shim sent to a coach during the 2018 Olympics were released on Oct. 12. The texts include insults directed at teammates and what some believe is a reference to race fixing.
Whether or not Shim's comments were serious about making Choi a "female Steven Bradbury", a reference to an Australian short track Olympian who won gold after all his opponents crashed in a pileup and fell at the last minute during the 1000-meter race at the 2002 Games, the two did collide and fall while turning on the final corner of the women's 1000-meter final at the 2018 Games.
After a video review, Shim was disqualified and Choi missed out on a medal, taking fourth place. What was seen as an unfortunate collision between teammates at the time is now retroactively being investigated under the suspicion that Shim could have intentionally skated into Choi.
Shim denied that the collision was intentional and an investigation into the race is ongoing. Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the situation, the text messages sent were released by a lawyer representing a former national team coach who is currently imprisoned for physically and sexually assaulting Shim.
While the investigation is ongoing, Shim is no longer staying with the other team members at the Jincheon National Training Center and has been excluded from the World Cup series roster.
Adding to the team's problems, Choi suffered an ankle and knee injury in the middle of the International Skating Union (ISU) season after colliding with other skaters in the women's 1500-meter final and 500-meter final in the first round of the ISU World Cup in Beijing last week.
Choi had to return home from China to undergo medical examinations while the rest of the team left for Nagoya, Japan for the second round of the ISU World Cup to earn Beijing Winter Olympic berths.
Korean speed skaters' mishaps are made even more unfortunate with the addition of the mixed relay short-track speed skating event at the Beijing Games for the first time. Alongside the mixed relay, the Beijing Games will introduce six new medal events: the women's monobob, men's and women's big air freestyle skiing and mixed events will be implemented in ski jumping, ski aerials and snowboard cross. These additions will bring about the most-gender balanced Olympic Winter Games to date.
The monobob is similar to the bobsleigh, but is a single-person event. Big air freestyle skiing is added to the five original freestyle skiing events — aerials, halfpipe, moguls, ski cross and slopestyle. It is similar to big air snowboarding that made its debut at the PyeongChang Games, in that athletes will ski down a hill performing tricks and making big jumps.
Fewer athletes will compete in Beijing despite the additions. A total of 2,892 athletes will be on the big stage, 41 fewer than at the PyeongChang Games. The final Team Korea lineup is yet to be announced.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]