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Golden hopefuls in Sochi

Lee Sang-hwa, Kim Yu-na seek more Olympic glory

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Published : 2014-02-10 19:28
Updated : 2014-02-10 19:28

Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa holds the women’s world record in the 500 meters at 36.36 seconds. (Yonhap)

Olympic speed skating champion Lee Sang-hwa, who earned South Korea the gold medal in the women’s 500 meters in Vancouver four years ago and currently holds the world record in the event at 36.36 seconds, is set to race toward another golden finish in Sochi on Tuesday.

The women’s 500-meter race will begin at 9:45 p.m. on Feb. 11, Korean time, at the Adler Arena Skating Center in Sochi.

Lee will likely face fierce competition from Germany’s Jenny Wolf, China’s Beixing Wang, Russia’s Olga Fatkulina, and Heather Richardson of the United States.

In 2010, she closely beat Wolf by 0.05 seconds to take the gold medal.

This year, however, she is expected to get ahead of her competitors by a large margin to capture another gold medal, which would make her the third athlete after American Bonnie Blair (1988, 1992, 1994) and Canadian Catriona Le May Doan (1998, 2002) to win two consecutive Olympic gold medals in the women’s 500 meters.

There are even hopes that Lee will set a new world record upon her recent improvements.

Skating commentators say the improved ice quality in the skating arena may help her potentially record-breaking performance.

Several speed skaters have proven that. Dutch champion Sven Kramer and his compatriot Jorrit Bergsma slashed their records in the men’s 5,000 meters by 4 seconds and 2 seconds, respectively. Irene Wust of the Netherlands and Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic also trimmed their finish times in the ladies’ 3,000 meters by 2 seconds and 4 seconds, respectively.

Korea’s Kim Yu-na is trying to repeat as a figure skating Olympic champion. (File photo)

Meanwhile, South Korean figure skating champion Kim Yu-na will arrive in Sochi on Feb. 13 to participate in her final Olympics.

Kim shot to stardom during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when she showcased a dazzling, near-perfect program, earning 228.56 points, the highest score ever awarded to a figure skater, to win South Korea’s first-ever gold medal in the event.

Like Lee, Kim seeks her second straight Olympic gold medal. Should she succeed, she will become the first female figure skater since Germany’s Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988 to win back-to-back Olympic titles.

In Sochi, Kim faces a new challenger, the 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya, Russia’s youngest athlete ever to win an Olympic gold medal after her impressive performance during the ladies’ short program in the team figure skating on Sunday.

The budding Russian star impressed the judges and spectators with great flexibility and rapid, energetic rotation on her spins and jumps, putting her in international spotlight.

The Associated Press described Lipnitskaya as having “the look of an Olympic champion … dazzling the home crowd with a near-perfect routine in the women’s short program.”

Lipnitskaya scored 72.90 points in the ladies’ short program and 141.51 points in the free skating program, receiving a combined 214.41 points, the second-best result in ladies’ free skating after Kim’s world record in 2010.

Although Lipnitskaya, given her young age, may outperform Kim in terms of flexibility and speed in her spins and jumps, Kim is touted as having more technical prowess and grace, with her jumps dubbed “the standard” in ladies’ figure skating for their detailed perfection and stability. Many are expecting an intense showdown between Kim’s experienced polish and Lipnitskaya’s youthful energy in the upcoming ladies’ skating events.

The ladies’ short program and free skating events will take place in Sochi on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21, respectively.

By Sohn Ji-young (jiyoung.sohn@heraldcorp.com)

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