SOCHI, Russia (Yonhap) ― The speed skaters gritted their teeth to the finish line. The short trackers fell and got up, only to fall down again. The figure skating icon may or may not have gotten the short end of the judging stick.
Add that up, and South Korea fell shy of its goal of winning four gold medals and finishing in the top 10 at the Sochi Winter Olympics ― a publicly stated objective that, hindsight being 20-20, may have been a tad ambitious.
South Korea did grab three gold medals, but finished in 13th place with only three silver and two bronze medals. The country was kept out of the top 10 in the medal standings for only the second time since 1992.
It’s a lackluster showing for a country that won six gold, six silver and two bronze medals ― for its Winter Olympics record 14 medals ― to rank fifth in Vancouver in 2010.
South Korea sent 71 athletes to Sochi, its largest-ever delegation to a Winter Games, and made Olympic debuts in events such as curling and snowboard slalom.
Though the country was well represented across the board, as it competed in every sport except for ice hockey, South Korea all along was banking on its usual suspects to bring home medals.
Some delivered, and others faltered.
|Figure skater Kim Yu-na (left) and speed skater Lee Sang-hwa take part in the closing ceremony on Sunday. (Yonhap)|
Figure skater Kim Yu-na, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist, couldn’t be faulted for crumbling under the burden of expectations.
She had been regarded as a sure-fire candidate for gold in Sochi, and the 2013 world champion did all she could, putting together a flawless short program and free skate over two pressure-packed days.
Kim, though, settled for silver behind the upstart Russian teenager Adelina Sotnikova, finishing more than five points behind in a ruling that confused and angered fans and experts alike. Given anonymous judging in figure skating, conspiracy theories were plentiful as to whether the result had been rigged. Cynical and disgruntled South Korean fans may argue that their country would have won four gold medals had one Russian figure skating judge been replaced by someone from another nation.
Kim, who is retiring after Sochi, displayed as much grace in the aftermath as she did on the ice, and her composure served as a saving grace in a scandal that could easily have gone out of control and overshadowed the Olympics.
The figure skating saga surfaced over the final days of the Olympics. There was plenty of drama in the early going for South Korea, not least being speed skater Lee Sang-hwa’s successful defense of her Olympic crown in the women’s 500 m for the country’s first gold in Sochi.
Lee was as much a gold medal favorite as Kim was in figure skating, if not more so. The 24-year-old speedster entered Sochi as the world record holder in her main event, having first set the mark in January last year and broken it three times in November.
She also had fond memories of Sochi. A year ago on the same ice at Adler Arena Skating Center, Lee had won her second straight world single distance title in the 500 m.