Kim Bo-reum is ready to put PyeongChang debacle behind her
Korean speed skating Olympian Kim Bo-reum is back on the ice preparing for the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Kim is already a two-time Olympian, having appeared at the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2018 PyeongChang Games, where she won her first silver medal in the inaugural women’s mass start. For most of the race, Kim trailed behind the 16-women pack, but put on an incredible come back in the last lap to finish as runner-up.
But medals aside, the Games for Kim were dominated by a much less victorious story. One week before the mass start, Kim was embroiled in bullying allegations after appearing to turn on her teammate following a disappointing performance in the women's team pursuit.
Kim competed in the team pursuit alongside Noh Seon-yeong and Park Ji-woo. Kim led for three laps while Park and Noh each took the lead for a lap and a half. Park started the group for the first half and had Noh lead for another lap. When one skater seemed to fall behind, the other at the back of the group pushed the person ahead to continue the race.
But the group’s final lap is where it all went wrong: The team raced the final lap with Kim at the front followed by Park and Noh, but before reaching the finish line Noh fell far behind. As a result, Korea finished seventh in the quarterfinals with a time of 3 minutes and 3.76 seconds. After the lap, Kim appeared to blame Noh for the loss.
Kim was accused of leaving Noh behind on purpose during the race, taking the blow for their poor teamwork, and was also criticized for taking jabs at Noh in a post-race interview. The incident briefly made her public enemy No. 1 in Korea, as more than half a million people from the embarrassed host nation signed a petition on the Blue House website calling for her to be ejected from the national squad.
The uproar prompted the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to investigate the matter, and it ultimately cleared Kim of bullying Noh and determined that Kim and Park made no intentional effort to leave her behind on the ice.
The incident, which included a tearful televised apology from a clearly distraught Kim, left her struggling with depression and a loss of confidence for months.
The saga didn’t end there. In a televised interview in January 2019, Kim claimed that she had been the victim of verbal and emotional abuse from Noh, not the other way around.
“Aside from myself, many other skaters were harassed by Noh,” Kim said in an interview after her 3,000-meter race during the National Winter Sports Festival at Taereung International Rink in Seoul. “I have evidence to prove it and I am willing to disclose it.”
Kim went on to sue Noh, seeking 200 million won ($180,000) in damages, arguing that Noh's accusations at the Olympics caused her mental health problems and a panic disorder, for which she needed counseling, as well as lost earnings as her sponsorship deals were canceled.
“[Four years ago,] I didn’t know if I could get back on the ice again,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo on Oct. 26, recalling the incident. “But I had to manage and cope with the issues on my own.
“I was relieved that the truth was revealed. I don’t want to think about that period of my life but I can’t help it. Whenever I am reminded of it, I keep telling myself that it’s alright.”
Kim somehow put all of that behind and returned to the rink again in late 2019, and kept going until this September when she won the women’s 3000-meter race at the SK Telecom Speed Skating Championships at Taereung International Skating Rink in northern Seoul, earning a ticket to the five-series ISU World Cup Speed Skating 2021–2022, where Kim will be looking to qualify for her third Olympics.
“I’m going to think of Beijing as my first Olympic Games,” Kim said.
“The Olympics is what every athlete dreams of. Though this is my third Olympics and I have medaled once, I am going to prepare for the Games thinking that this is my first time.”
The first four series of the World Cup will serve as qualifying events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. The first series of the ISU World Cup takes place in Poland from Nov. 12 to 14. The second takes place in Norway from Nov. 19 to 21, the third in the United States from Dec. 3 to 5 and the fourth in Canada the next week. The fifth series will take place after the Games.
“There are three mass start competitions at the World Cup,” said Kim.
“My priority is to check where I stand during the first series. I will need to strategize not just by lap time but based on who leads the pack. My lap time is getting better but finding my pace before the World Cup is important.
“I am doing my best to prepare for the Beijing Olympics, I think I'll do even better with support.”
BY KIM HYO-KYUNG, YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]