The countdown to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi reached 30 days on Wednesday, as South Korean athletes set their sight on another top-10 finish in the medal table.
With the clock ticking down, it was business as usual for the athletes at the National Training Center in Seoul, where they're gearing up for the Feb. 7-23 Winter Games in Russia.
Figure skater Kim Yu-na, who will try to win her second straight Olympic gold, and speed skaters Mo Tae-bum and Lee Sang-hwa, two defending Olympic champions in the men's and the women's 500 meters, respectively, were among medal hopefuls hard at work on Wednesday.
Kim, also a two-time world champion, will seek to become only the third woman to defend an Olympic figure skating gold, after Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt. She won her second straight South Korean national championship in a landslide last weekend.
Lee is the world record holder in the women's 500ｍ and as the most dominant female speed skating sprinter since early last year, she is the heavy favorite to repeat as the Olympic champ. After sitting out recent races to recharge, Lee won her final tune-up race at home on Tuesday.
Mo has been somewhat inconsistent since Vancouver but won his most recent International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup race last month and seems to be rounding into form.
Another strong title contender is Shim Suk-hee, a 16-year-old sensation in short track speed skating. She has overwhelmed her competition over the past two seasons, and should be competing for up to two gold medals, in an individual race and in the 3,000ｍ relay.
South Korea's stated goal is to grab at least four gold medals and rank among the top 10 countries in medals. South Korea has been in the top 10 in five of the past six Winter Olympics.
At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, South Korea won an all-time high of 14 medals. The six gold medals matched the half dozen won in Turin in 2006 as the country's biggest haul in a Winter Olympics.
While trying to match the total from Vancouver may be a tall order, South Korea will at least give itself a chance by fielding what is expected to be its largest Winter Games delegation ever.
In Vancouver, 46 athletes represented the country. With qualification spots in some sports still open, the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) estimates around 64 South Korean athletes will be competing in Sochi.
Through Tuesday, 15 speed skaters, 10 short trackers, three figure skaters and five curlers have booked their Olympic spots.
More South Koreans are battling for berths in bobsleigh and skeleton.
Overall, South Korea could have athletes in up to six sports.
There will be 98 gold medals up for grabs in Sochi.
To mark the 30-day countdown, President Park Geun-hye visited the National Training Center on Wednesday. She offered words of encouragement to figure skater Kim, speed skaters Lee and Mo, and short tracker Shim, among other athletes.
"Please work hard with a mentality that you are going to be coming back after giving it your all without any regret," at the Olympics, Park told Kim as she shook hands with figure skating athletes and coaches on the ice.
Park later visited the speed skating team and met with Lee, saying her performances have been a source of hope and encouragement for South Koreans and that she believes Lee will prove victorious at the upcoming Games as well.
Park was joined by Kim Jung-haeng, the head of the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC), and Kim Jae-youl, the president of the Korea Skating Union (KSU), who will serve as the head of the South Korean athletic delegation to Sochi, among other sports officials.
At the start of her luncheon with the athletes, Park said she hoped their hard work and dedication will bear fruit in Sochi.
"You may have heard the saying, 'A genius cannot defeat someone who works hard. Someone who works hard cannot defeat someone who enjoys their work,'" Park said, asking the athletes to shake off pressure and try to enjoy the Games.
"I heard there is a saying here at the National Training Center that sweat of athletes make steel rust and then becomes a gold medal," she said. "I think the biggest ingredient of a gold medal is a drop of sweat in which extreme effort and patience are condensed." (Yonhap News)