SPORTS

Korean athletes set sights on record-setting performance at PyeongChang 2018

By Yonhap
  • Published : Oct 31, 2017 - 14:58
  • Updated : Oct 31, 2017 - 14:58

South Korean athletes on Tuesday reaffirmed their determination to deliver a record-setting performance at next year's Winter Olympics at home.

The countdown to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will reach 100 days Wednesday, and the national team media day at the National Training Center in Seoul on Tuesday provided an opportunity for the delegation leaders and medal hopefuls to talk about their preparations and goals.

PyeongChang 2018 will be the first Winter Olympics to take place in South Korea. The host set its sights on winning at least 20 medals, including a record eight gold, to rank inside the top five in the medal race.

South Korea's best Winter Games performance came at Vancouver 2010, with six gold medals and 14 medals in total putting it in fifth place. The country followed that up with three gold medals in Sochi four years later and ranked 13th overall.

South Korean Olympic officials and winter sports athletes pose for pictures during the media day ahead of the 100-day countdown to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics at the National Training Center in Seoul on Oct. 31, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea is expected to be represented by 130 athletes in all seven spots, up from 71 athletes in six sports in Sochi.

The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee President Lee Kee-heung said a successful PyeongChang Winter Olympics will help lay the groundwork for South Korea to become a winter sports power.

"I think the performance of our national team is imperative for a successful Olympics," Lee said at the press conference. "I hope our athletes will all have strong showings and give our people a lot to cheer for."

All 26 Winter Olympic titles by South Korea have come from ice events -- short track, speed skating and figure skating. And the trend will likely hold up in PyeongChang.

The nation will pin its medal hopes on some of the returning heroes from Vancouver and Sochi, such as speed skaters Lee Sang-hwa and Lee Seung-hoon.

Lee Sang-hwa is going for her third straight gold medal in the women's 500 meters, but she said she is actually under less pressure than she had been before Sochi 2014.

"There are plenty of races before the Olympics, and I'll focus on improving my time over the course of these competitions," Lee said at the press conference. "And the more races I enter, the sharper I'll become. The ultimate goal is obviously to do well at the Olympics, but I'll also need to keep improving my time in the coming weeks."

Lee Seung-hoon was the 10,000m gold medal winner in Vancouver but has since switched to the mass start, a relatively new speed skating event making its debut in PyeongChang.

South Korean speed skater Lee Seung-hoon answers a reporter`s question during the media day ahead of the 100-day countdown to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics at the National Training Center in Seoul on Oct. 31, 2017. (Yonhap)

Lee ended the 2016-2017 season ranked No. 1 in the men's mass start, and he said he wants to make history in PyeongChang.

"I've raced in many mass start races at world championships and World Cups, and in terms of experience and my skill level, I am confident," he said. "I'd love to be the first Olympic gold medalist in the mass start."

For South Korea, 21 of those 26 Winter Olympics gold medals have come from short track speed skating, and the country should pick up a few more on home ice, with Choi Min-jeong leading the way.

The 19-year-old is a two-time world overall champion and will be making her Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

"PyeongChang will have so much significance for me, since it will be my first Olympics, and it will be our home ice," Choi said. "The most important thing is to prepare the best we can and not leave the Olympics with regrets."

Elsewhere, alpine snowboarder Lee Sang-ho is hoping he could be the first South Korean athlete to win an Olympic medal away from ice.

"I believe I have a strong chance to win a medal," said Lee, who in March became the first South Korean to win an FIS World Cup medal with a silver in Turkey. He placed fifth in the men's parallel giant slalom at the world championships in the same month.

"Based on my recent training camp in Europe and my performance in the 2016-2017 season, I believe an Olympic medal is possible," he added. "I am trying to stay positive." (Yonhap)