The South Korean government announced on Monday it will seek to award three medalists from the recent Winter Olympics the most prestigious national order of merit in sports, in an apparent attempt to assuage critics of its revamped qualification requirements for the honors.
In a statement, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said speed skater Lee Sang-hwa, short tracker Park Seung-hi and figure skater Kim Yu-na will be considered for the Chungryong Medal, the highest decoration in South Korea's Order of Sports Merit.
"They helped raise the prestige of our nation with their performances at the Sochi Winter Games," the ministry said. "We will look to confer the Chungryong Medal on them after consulting with relevant organizations."
Lee won her second straight Olympic gold in the women's 500 meters. Park won two gold medals and one bronze medal in the women's short track and was the only South Korean athlete to capture more than one gold medal in Sochi. Kim claimed the silver medal in the ladies' singles event.
The ministry's decision came on the heels of criticism it faced last week for introducing more stringent points-based qualification standards for the Chungryong Medal starting this year. Under the revamped criteria, even Kim, a two-time Olympic medalist also with two world championships to her credit, wouldn't have enough points to be eligible for Chungryong.
Critics argued that they saw little point of having national sports honors in the first place when someone as decorated as Kim, easily the finest South Korean figure skater and a trailblazer in her sport, couldn't qualify for the highest award.
The ministry on Monday said it will have further consultations with other government bodies to improve the qualification system for sports medals. (Yonhap)