Energized by short track medals over the Lunar New Year weekend, South Korea will attempt to add to its medal haul at the PyeongChang Winter Games in its quest to finish fourth overall.
The nation’s first Winter Games and second Olympics since the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul reached its midway point Saturday, nine days after it kicked off on Feb. 9. The international sporting event wraps up on Feb. 25, with nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries competing for a record 102 gold medals.
As of 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Germany led the overall competition with nine gold medals, four silver and four bronze, trailed by Norway with eight gold, eight silver and seven bronze and the Netherlands with six gold, five silver and two bronze. Canada is in the fourth spot with five gold, five silver and six bronze, and the US in fifth with five gold, three silver and two bronze. South Korea is in the ninth with three gold and two bronze.
The Korean female speed skaters train for Monday's team pursuit event at Gangneung Ice Arena on Sunday.
Team South Korea aims to capture eight gold, four silver and eight bronze by the event’s closing ceremony, with short track a key event for the host nation. Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Canada are strong favorites to finish in the top four, all of them benefitting from a ban imposed on Russia over its state-sponsored doping at the Sochi Games in 2014.
South Korea’s Choi Min-jeong celebrated her first Olympic gold medal in the women’s 1,500 meter short track speedskating at Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday, bringing home Korea’s third gold at PyeongChang and its first in the event since South Korean Jin Sun-yu topped the race in Turin in 2006.
Choi cruised to her victory in the final, clocking 2 minutes, 24.948 seconds, comfortably ahead of silver medalist Li Jinyu of China and bronze medalist Kim Boutin of Canada. Choi’s teammate Kim A-lang finished fourth.
“Short track is an unpredictable sport. There are many twists and turns in the race, so I couldn’t let my guard down until crossing the finish line,” Choi said after the race referring to the 500 on Tuesday, where she finished second but was disqualified for impeding another athlete.
Korean star speed skater Shim Suk-hee (left) participates in an exercise on Sunday for this week's women's short-track relay event. (yonhap)
The 19-year-old is the current world record holder over the distance, and has swept the No. 1 rankings in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 this season. Prior to the start of PyeongChang, she had been regarded as the strongest candidate to bring home gold medals.
“I could have not made it alone. So many people and fans cheered me on and gave me energy. I want to thank those who entrusted their faith in me,” Choi said in elation.
Choi, Kim A-lang and Shin Suk-hee, who was eliminated in the preliminaries, will compete together in the 3,000-meter relay final on Tuesday.
In the men’s 1,000, South Korean Seo Yi-ra claimed bronze despite colliding and falling with his teammate Lim Hyo-jun, who previously won the 1,500 event last week, and Hungary’s Shaolin Sandor Liu.
“I am disappointed for skating so passively and not taking the initiative early in the race. At least Yi-ra grabbed bronze,” Lim said.
With Choi and Lim jostling in remaining events, three or more gold medals are expected from the men’s 500 and 5,000 relay on upcoming Thursday, as well as the women’s 1,000 on Thursday and 3,000 on Tuesday.
Unified Korean female hockey players pose ahead of a match with Switzerland at Gangneung Ice Arena on Sunday. The Korean team was defeated in 0-2. (Yonhap)
In long-track speedskating, two-time Olympic champion Lee Sang-hwa, who dropped out of the 1,000-meter event on Wednesday to focus on the 500, will compete in the event on Sunday evening. Lee Seung-hoon, a 10,000-meter champion at Vancouver 2010 who skated in the men’s 5,000 and 10,000, will go for another medal in the men’s mass start on Saturday.
On Friday, skeleton slider Yoon Seong-bin clinched gold, becoming the first Asian to top the sledding competition at the Winter Olympics.
Yoon’s victory is likely to motivate bobsleigh duo Won Yun-jong and Seo Young-woo -- the first Asian team to finish the season with a world No. 1 ranking – to replicate his success in the two-man event at PyeongChang Olympic Sliding Centre on Sunday and Monday. Won and Seo secured the overall title in the 2015-2016 International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation World Cup season with two gold and three silver medals.
South Korea’s first bronze came from speedskater Kim Min-seok, who finished third in the men’s 1,500 event on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the South Korean men’s hockey team suffered an 8-0 rout to Switzerland at Gangneung Hockey Centre on Saturday. The drubbing, which came on the heels of a 2-1 loss against the Czech Republic, has eliminated Korea from advancing directly into the quarterfinals. The men’s team will face Canada at 9:10 p.m. on Sunday.
By Joel Lee (email@example.com