Short track skaters confident after first practice in Beijing
Korean speed skaters are back on track in their hunt for gold at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. With the opening of the Games just a day away, skaters have now had the chance to warm up on the ice.
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 four ISU World Cups ahead of the Games, Korea was able to win three gold, four silver and three bronze medals in the women’s events and four gold, three silver and two bronze medals in the men’s events.
Two athletes to keep an eye out for in Beijing are Lee Yu-bin, who won two gold medals and two silver medals at the World Cups, and Kwak Yoon-gy, who is looking to win at his third and last Olympics after a strong performance at the fourth ISU Short Track Speed Skating World Cup in Dordrecht, the Netherlands last November, where he won the men's 5000-meter gold medal alongside Park Jang-hyuk, Park In-wook and Kim Dong-wook.
Lee is a strong candidate especially in the women’s 1500-meter race, with reports pointing her out as the most anticipated skater in the event.
“I was not aware of the attention,” Lee Yu-bin told the JoongAng Ilbo. “If I think of it as a burden, it can be. But it’s a projection and I hope people think of it in a positive light.”
Lee will also be looking for Korea’s third consecutive team medal in the women’s 3000-meter relay alongside Choi Min-jeong, Kim A-lang, Park Ji-yun and Seo Whi-min. Korea have won six of the eight gold medals in the women’s relay since the 1992 summer Games. After winning at the 2014 Sochi Games and at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, where Lee won her first-ever Olympic gold medal, Korea are now looking to go three in a row.
At the PyeongChang Games, Lee was the youngest member on the team and despite tripping and falling in the semifinal race, Team Korea managed to quickly make up for a one-lap deficit and pull off a big comeback to a gold medal.
“I had no idea how to be physically ready for a team race at the time,” Lee Yu-bin said. “Now I know how and can prepare on my own.”
Alongside Lee, 33-year-old Kwak Yoon-gy is preparing for his third time on the big stage but his first time competing in the men’s 5000-meter relay.
“I want to be able to handle a lot of the team’s pressure for the younger players,” said Kwak.
“I have already experienced at the first World Cup that the Beijing Games are going to be tough. The atmosphere is tense to the extent that we are saying that we could be disqualified even with the slightest breeze.”
Kwak, Lee and all other skaters have now had the chance to try out the ice at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing at their official practice session on Wednesday.
“We thought that the ice is a bit hard and so our blades were digging in a bit,” said Lee Yu-bin after the session. “There are subtle differences, for instance today it feels like my blades are sliding a bit faster.”
Kwak will be the flag bearer for Korea in the opening ceremony alongside Kim A-lang. Short track events will start with the women’s 500-meter heats on Saturday evening. The first medal event will be the mixed team relay later that night.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]