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[PyeongChang 2018] Lim Hyo-jun’s short track gold marks promising start for Korea

South Korea’s Lim Hyo-jun on Saturday won the nation’s first gold medal in the men’s 1,500-meter short track speedskating event, bringing an auspicious start for the country that aims for a medal sweep at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Lim crossed the finish line in an Olympic record time of 2:10.485 at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, a subhost city for the Winter Games. 

Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands took the silver medal and Semen Elistratov of Olympic Athletes from Russia took bronze.

“I can’t believe it. It was a big competition,” the 21-year-old told press. “Although I stood at the top of the podium, I didn’t make it all by myself. I want to thank my coaches and other teammates who trained hard together with me.”

South Korean short track skater Kim Hyo-jun (Yonhap)
South Korean short track skater Kim Hyo-jun (Yonhap)

Lim added that he will give his best to win the men’s 5,000 meters relay as well, an event South Korea hasn’t topped in 12 years. His gold is the country’s first Olympic medal in men’s short track in eight years. 

The skater went on to express gratitude to Victor An -- a South Korea-born Russian short track speedskater who did not come to PyeongChang due to being implicated in Russia’s state-sponsored doping -- for giving him advice before the game.

Meanwhile, the two Koreas’ joint women’s hockey team suffered an 8-0 rout to Switzerland on Saturday at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong and North Korean ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam watched the match, accompanied by a large contingent of North Korean cheerleaders.

A parallel focal point of the match was the cheerleaders, donned in white hats and dressed in red uniforms and hanbok, waving the Korean Unification Flag as well as doing the wave. 

The joint team said it looks forward to its second game against world No. 5 Sweden on Monday. Twenty-three players from World No. 22 South Korea and 12 players from No. 25 North Korea form the unified team. 

The South Korean men’s hockey team suffered an 8-1 loss to the OAR team in a final tuneup game in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, Saturday. South Korea’s first Group A match is against the Czech Republic on Thursday, followed by No. 7 Switzerland and No. 1 Canada.

Red Gerard of the United States won the gold medal in the men’s slopestyle snowboard event at Phoenix Park in PyeongChang on Sunday. Canada’s Max Parrot won silver and Canada’s Mark McMorris won bronze. 

There are a record 102 gold medals up for grabs at this year’s Winter Olympics from Feb. 9-25, with nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries participating. As of Sunday at 6:30 p.m., the Netherlands leads the overall competition with two gold medals, two silver and one bronze, followed by Germany with two gold and Norway with one gold, four silver and three bronze. South Korea, Sweden and the US are knotted up with one gold each in third. 

In cross country skiing, Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krueger grabbed the gold medal in the men’s 15-kilometer-plus-15-kilometer skiathlon event Sunday, followed by his compatriots silver medalist Martin Johnsrud Sundby and bronze medalist Hans Christer Holund for a podium sweep.  

On Saturday, Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla grabbed the maiden gold medal of the PyeongChang Games after finishing atop the women’s skiathlon event. The Swede clocked 40 minutes, 44.9 seconds in the 15-kilometer skiathlon competition at Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre in PyeongChang.

In the same event, defending champion Marit Bjoergen of Norway -- a six-time Olympic gold medalist -- came second at 40:52.7, followed by Krista Parmakoski of Finland at 40:55.

Three Dutch women swept the podium Saturday in the women’s 3,000-meter speedskating, with Carlijn Achtereekte winning the gold, Irene Wust silver and Antoinette de Jong bronze. The relatively unknown Achtereekte clocked 3:59.21 for her win, while defending champion Wust scored 3:59.29 and de Jong 4:00.02. 

“It‘s incredible that three of the girls ended on the podium,” said Achtereekte. “I skated a good race, but the others were really good and I’m happy with the Dutch sweep,” said de Jong.

Due to the International Skating Union’s change of rules, no country can enter more than three athletes in most speedskating events. The limit falls to two per country for the men’s 10,000 meters and women’s 5,000 meters races, a move designed to spur competition and stop one nation from dominating the podium, as Holland did in four events in Sochi. 

The two gold medals for Germany came Saturday from Laura Dahlmeier in the biathlon women’s 7.5-km sprint and Andreas Wellinger in the men’s normal hill individual ski jumping.

Dahlmeier cruised through the course in 21 minutes, 6.2 seconds with a perfect 10 for 10 on her shooting bouts, becoming one of three in a field of 87 to shoot all 10 of her targets clean. Wellinger flew 113.5 meters through the frigid midnight air to leap over Norway’s Johann Andre Forfang and Robert Johannsson, who picked up the silver and bronze medals, respectively. 

In speed skating men’s 5,000 meter race on Sunday, the Netherlands’ Sven Kramer won the gold medal, Canada’s Ted-Jan Bloemen won silver and Norway’s Sverre Lunde Pedersen won bronze. South Korean speed skater Lee Seung-hoon came in fifth place.

South Korea’s mixed doubles curling team of Jang Hye-ji and Lee Ki-jeong failed to advance to the semifinals after losing 4-6 to Switzerland on Saturday. 

The country set an Olympic record in the women’s 3,000-meter short track relay despite skater Lee Yu-bin’s fall in the early part of the race. With a record time of 4 minutes, 6.387 seconds, South Korea -- which took gold in the 3,000 in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2014 -- secured yet another spot in a 3,000 final on Feb. 20.

South Korea’s ice dance team of Min Yu-ra and Alexander Gamelin finished ninth in the figure skating team event Sunday, scoring 51.97 points in the short dance at Gangneung Ice Arena. The country was ninth after four short programs of the figure skating team event Sunday.

The alpine skiing men’s downhill event originally scheduled for Sunday morning at Jeongseon Alpine Centre in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, has been postponed to 11 a.m. Thursday due to strong winds and cold weather that could impact athletes’ safety. The super-G event was also pushed back to 11 a.m. Friday.

Women’s alpine events are scheduled for Monday but could be delayed due to bone-chilling weather, the local organizing committee announced. The temperature at PyeongChang is between minus 10 and minus 15 degrees Celsius, but the wind chill makes it feel colder due to strong winds, according to local reports.

Despite a series of low-intensity earthquakes in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, in the wee hours Sunday, the tremble was not felt in PyeongChang or Gangneung, media reported.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)
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