Sliding star Jung Seung-gi is ready for high-speed Olympic debut
In the last five years, skeleton has gone from a relatively unknown sport in Korea to a source of national pride when Yun "Ironman" Sung-bin became the first Asian athlete ever to medal in an Olympic sliding sport at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. Now a second generation of Korean sliders is taking their spot on the slope, led by 22-year-old Jung Seung-gi.
Jung, who now outranks Yun, won his first-ever World Cup medal last week when he finished third in Sigulda, Latvia, on Dec. 31. Jung crossed the line with a total time of 1:41.73, 0.37 seconds behind winner Tomass Durkurs of Latvia.
Countryman Kim Ji-soo took 13th place with a time of 1:42.58 and Yun took 17th place with a time of 1:42.94. Yun has been struggling this season, finishing outside of the top 10 in four of the six World Cups.
Jung's bronze medal is already his third top-10 performance in the 2021-22 season, having finished seventh in Innsbruck on Nov. 11, 2021 and narrowly missing out on a podium with a fourth-place finish on Nov. 26.
It is not only Jung's first medal since his World Cup debut in the 2019-20 season, but it Korea's first medal this season.
"It still hasn't hit me yet," Jung told the JoongAng Ilbo.
"It's made even more special because it's my first medal and because I won the award on the first day of the new year [in Korean time]. I think I was able to win thanks to the support of others including my family."
This will be the first time Jung has competed at the Olympics, although he did make an appearance at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, carrying the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony.
"I started this sport when I was 16," said Jung. "Now I have reached the big stage. I can almost see the podium. I will do my best."
With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics less than a month away, Jung's form is good news for Team Korea. Jung is currently the top-ranked Korean, sitting at No. 10 on the world ranking. Yun follows at No. 14, with Kim just behind at No. 15.
"I think that training all summer with my teammates, coaches and staff is what made it possible," said Jung. "There is still lots to overcome, like the Dukurs brothers, but I will compete with confidence."
The Latvian Dukurs brothers, Tomass and Martins, have competed at the last three Winter Olympics, with Martins winning silver at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.
At the Beijing Olympics, Skeleton heats run from Feb. 10 to Feb. 12. The top 50 athletes in the world based on their last six races will be given Olympic berths, with the total number of berths available to each country decided based on the country's ranking. The deadline for the world rankings is Jan. 16.
Korea is expected to send a total of 12 athletes to compete in sliding events in Beijing, with two sleds competing in the two-man bobsleigh, two sleds in the four-man bobsleigh and one sled in the women's monobob, as well as an additional three athletes, two men and one woman, expected to race in the skeleton.
"I will look out for injuries until I get to Beijing," said Jung. "At the Games, I will try my best alongside Yun to win Korea's second skeleton Olympic medal."
Jung on Friday finished 11th at the men's skeleton event of the BMW IBSF World Cup held in Winterberg, Germany alongside Yun who finished 6th and Kim who finished in 14th position.
BY PI JOO-YOUNG AND YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]