Youth was well served for South Korea at the Sochi Winter Games on Saturday, as the 17-year-old short tracker Shim Suk-hee claimed the silver medal in the women's 1,500 meters and Yun Sung-bin, 19, posted the country's best result ever in men's skeleton.
Shim's silver was South Korea's third medal in Sochi, and second from short track. She was leading the race until Zhou Yang of China charged out in front with two laps remaining and held on to the lead to win her second straight gold medal in the 1,500m.
Shim had been the hot favorite to take the 1,500m crown, for she won the 1,500m at three of the four World Cup stops this past season. Shim didn't conceal her disappointment right after the race, but later said she will try to regroup for two remaining races next week, the 3,000m relay and the 1,000m.
In skeleton, Yun ended in 16th place, the best Olympic showing by a South Korean in skeleton. Kang Kwang-bae, a pioneer in South Korean sledding sports and currently a vice president at the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, ranked 20th and 23rd in 2002 and 2006. Cho In-ho, Yun's current coach, finished in 22nd in 2010.
Yun's combined time after four races was 3:49.57, 5.28 seconds behind the winner, Alexander Tretiakov of Russia.
Yun had been in 13th place after the first two runs on Friday. He had a mediocre third run to open Saturday, however, finishing the race in 57.90 seconds, his worst record in Sochi that dropped him to 16th.
Yun bounced back and finished his fourth and final run in 57.11 seconds, which kept him at 16th place at the end. It was a promising performance that bodes well for the country's future in sledding sports.
Yun began his skeleton career barely two years ago but already has an international win to his credit. His surprising victory at the Intercontinental Cup stop in Canada last month helped place him at No. 20 on the FIBT world rankings as of Jan. 20, well inside the Olympic qualification zone of the top 60.
Yun said afterward that he hopes to develop at an even faster rate over the next four years, so that he can contend for a medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea's PyeongChang.
"It feels good to know I did something historic, but no athlete will be completely satisfied without a gold medal," he said. "I need more experience. I made some mistakes in my third race and I will try to learn from them."
Yun consistently had fast starts, never falling out of top eight in his start times. Yun acknowledged that he lacked skills to keep up his early speed.
"I think what separates me from the top athletes is experience," he said. "I think I should be able to narrow the gap in four years (until the next Olympics). People have been telling me I've progressed really fast, and I want to get better even faster over the next four years."
There could have been more short track medals for South Korea on Saturday, but Kim A-lang was penalized for interference in the women's 1,500m final, while Sin Da-woon suffered the same fate in the men's 1,000m final.
Viktor Ahn of Russia won the men's 1,000m. The South Korean native, born Ahn Hyun-soo, became a Russian citizen in 2011, and this was Russia's first gold in Olympic short track. Earlier, he'd won the bronze in the 1,500m. With four gold medals to his credit, Ahn became the most decorated male short tracker in Olympic history.
Ahn's success for his adopted country has been in stark contrast with the struggles of his native country.
South Korea's dominance in Olympic short track has been well documented. With 19 gold medals and 37 medals overall before Sochi, South Korea led all countries in both categories. South Korea is also the only nation to have won at least one short track gold at every Winter Games since the sport joined the Olympic program in 1992.
The streak seems to be more in danger with each passing day here in Russia, as short trackers continued to have trouble staying on ice or avoiding interference penalties.
The men's team has had some frustrating moments. On Monday, Sin Da-woon and Lee Han-bin were first and second late in their 1,500m semifinal race, when Sin skated into a rough patch and fell, tripping up Lee in the process.
Lee was awarded a spot in the final after judges ruled that Sin had impeded him, but Lee only ended in sixth place.
The South Korean men's 5,000m relay team crashed out of the semifinals on Thursday, as Lee Ho-suk slipped and blew the team's lead with four laps left.
South Korean men could end a Winter Games without a short track medal for only the second time. The one last opportunity in Sochi will be the 500m, an event in which only one South Korean, Chae Ji-hoon in 1994, has won the gold.
South Korea was last shut of men's short track medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
The women's squad has also had its drama. Park Seung-hi won the bronze in the 50m on Thursday, but not before falling down twice in the chaotic final. Cho Ha-ri received a penalty in the 1,500m semifinals for interference after finishing her race in second place. A clean performance would have put Cho in the final alongside Shim Suk-hee and Kim A-lang. Elsewhere in Sochi on Saturday, the women's curling team lost to Britain 10-8 in round robin, as its hopes of reaching the next round were further dashed.
Among 10 nations in Sochi, the top four after the round robin play will reach the semifinals. The loss on Saturday dropped South Korea's record to 2-4. It will likely have to win its remaining three matches to have a shot at making the semis.
South Korea will face Denmark on Sunday, followed by the United States and Canada on Monday.
Also on Saturday, Joo Hyong-jun finished the men's 1,500m speed skating race in 29th place among 40 skaters at 1:48.59.