Let the Olympic Games begin
Published : 2010-03-30 00:11
Updated : 2010-03-30 00:11
For Lee Kyou-hyuk, 32, the Winter Olympics are not just a quadrennial sporting event. He has devoted his life in pursuit of Olympic glory.
At the age of 16, the speed skater became one of the youngest athletes to attend the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
The five-time Olympian, however, has had no luck with medals. His closest chance came at the 2006 Turin Olympics where he finished fourth in the Men`s 1,000 meter, only 0.05 second short of the bronze.
"Now I fully understand what it is like to compete in the Olympics. With the past experience, I believe I can win this time," Lee said last week before heading to Vancouver.
Like Lee, with one clear goal in mind, more than 2,800 athletes from over 80 countries will march into a stadium in Vancouver on Friday night (Saturday morning in Korean time) for the 2010 Winter Olympics that will last until Feb. 28.
A record 258 medals are up for grabs in 86 events in 15 sports during the 17-day-long competition.
"Korea is aiming to finish within the top 10 in the medal standings," Park Yong-sung, president of the Korea Olympic Council, told reporters.
A total of 46 Korean athletes, the largest-ever squad of 27 men and 19 women, have qualified to compete in the 2010 Winter Games.
Expectations are high as Korea was the best-performing Asian country in 2006, finishing seventh with six golds, three silvers and two bronzes.
Korea has set a target of a second consecutive top-10 finish in Vancouver with a goal of five gold medals. Again, the short-track speed skating team will be the main driving force.
Since short-track officially became a part of the Winter Games in 1992, Korea has been dominant on the ice, tallying a record of 29 medals, including 17 golds, followed by Canada with 20 medals and the United States with 12 medals.
This year, Lee Ho-suk, 24, who won two silvers in 2006, is leading the 10-man squad.
"My goal is to win a gold by beating Anton Ohno of the United States," Lee told reporters.
Lee`s main competition is Ohno, who already denied Korea`s sweep of four golds in Turin four years ago.
The 27-year-old American, who has collected five Olympic medals, beat Lee at the 2008 world championships, is aiming at his sixth in the Men`s 1,000 meters.
On the women`s side, China has emerged as a strong competitor in short track speed skating. Wang Meng, who won the Women`s 500m in 2006, is set to reign supreme after taking the 500m and 1,000m titles at the 2009 world championships.
Though success for Korea is expected mainly on the short track, the country is also heavily favored in two disciplines they have yet to win - figure skating and speed skating.
In figure skating, Kim Yu-na will be the favorite. The 19-year-old, dubbed "Queen Yu-na," is eyeing gold after giving a flawless performance with a record score of 210.03 points in Paris in October 2009.
In speed skating, Lee Kyou-hyuk is expected to win the men`s 500 m event, alongside 2006 bronze medalist Lee Kang-seok.
The medal race this time appears as a U.S.-Canada border war. The United States finished second to Germany in 2006. This time, lead by veteran alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno and Shani Davis, they hope to reach the top of the medal-count standings.
Reports, however, predict that the host, Canada will edge out the world and for the first time win the overall medal count due to home advantage.
This is Canada`s third time hosting the Olympics. Despite two previous experiences, the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, no Canadian has ever won a gold medal on home turf.
This time should be rather different. The AP expects the host country to triumph with 15 gold medals, followed by the U.S. with 10, Norway with nine and Germany with eight.
"We will be right in the mix at the top of the heap," Roger Jackson, the head of the program, told the local media.
The Canadians are favored in both men`s and women`s hockey and they are also strong contestants in speed skating.
Individual medal races will become more interesting when the world`s best skiers, skaters and boarders create intriguing stories during the fortnight event.
Lindsey Vonn of the United States will compete in all five Alpine ski events. Nobody has ever won in all the five. The American ski queen, who is called "the Michael Phelps of the slopes," has a real chance to make history.
In short-track speed skating, China`s Wang Meng is expected to dominate. The first athlete ever to win a gold for China in 2006 is aiming for four more in the Women`s 500 m, 1,000 m, 1,500 m and the 3,000 m relay.
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway, five-time Olympic biathlon champion, is bidding to top the podium again in what is likely his last Olympics.
The 2010 Winter Olympics will begin Friday with the opening ceremonies, themed "To inspire the world," to be held in BC Place Stadium. This will be the first time for the opening ceremonies are held indoors.
Canadian local media have been predicting that hockey legend Wayne Gretzky will be the surprise cauldron-lighter at the ceremony.
Full coverage of the 2010 Winter Games opening ceremony will be broadcast live at 11 a.m. in Korea on SBS.
Although unseasonably warm temperatures have left Vancouver in some panic, organizers and International Olympic Committee officials have insisted they will have the courses ready in top condition, by running snow-making machines around the clock.
When asked about prospects of the success of the 2010 Winter Games, Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC said, "I`m very confident."
By Oh Kyu-wook