|Shim Suk-hee. (Yonhap News)|
The skaters will train in the high altitude of Font-Romeu, France, before arriving in Sochi, the host of the Winter Olympics, on Feb. 5, two days before the opening ceremony.
It has been a tumultuous season for the short trackers. While the women’s team, led by 16-year-old phenomenon Shim Suk-hee, dominated the International Skating Union World Cup events, the men’s team managed only two individual titles and no relay gold in four World Cup races.
Earlier this month, an assistant coach for the women’s short track team was dismissed after sexual harassment allegations emerged. Also in January, former men’s world champion Noh Jin-kyu was ruled out of Sochi after breaking his elbow during practice.
At Incheon International Airport, the skaters said they will not dwell on the past and will only look forward to the task ahead.
Shim, who has won 19 races in the past two World Cup seasons, is South Korea’s best hope for a gold medal. The soft-spoken teenager said she is ready to take on any challenge thrown her way by her rivals.
“I know a lot of skaters will come after me, and I am preparing to meet their challenges and respond well to any situation,” she said. “I can’t wait to be at the Olympics.”
Shim has excelled at the mid-distance events of 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters, and said Wednesday she’d also like to improve her start in the 500m.
Shim also said she wants to share the Olympic glory with her teammates.
“The one race I want to win the most is not an individual race, but the 3,000m relay,” she said. “If I win a gold medal, it will just be an indescribable feeling.”
Shim is expected to have a clearer path to the top of the podium, after Wang Meng, a triple gold medalist for China at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, broke her foot in a recent practice run. Her recovery could take up to six weeks and she is likely to miss Sochi.
The struggles of the men’s team have been well documented, and Sin Da-woon, the 2013 world overall champion, has been one of the scapegoats.
The 20-year-old failed to win any race in his four World Cup appearances this season, and took an embarrassing fall during the 5,000m relay semifinals in the second leg of the World Cup held in Seoul.
On Wednesday, though, Sin said he wasn’t close to 100 percent physically during the World Cup season and said he has since worked himself to “110 percent.”
“I set pretty good records during our training here, even better than times I had at the world championships last year,” Sin said. “During the World Cup, I was lacking stamina and burst of speed, but I’ve worked my way up over the past two months.”
Sin said it has been his lifelong dream to compete at a Winter Games, and he is feeling a mix of nerves and excitement.
“I think the key now is to make sure I stay in current form, and I don’t want to overwork myself,” he said. “I won’t pay attention to other skaters. I will just try to do the best I can.”
South Korea leads all countries with 19 Olympic short track gold medals. Of the country’s 45 medals at the Winter Olympics, 37 have come from short track. (Yonhap News)