In this Associated Press photo, Choi Min-jeong of South Korea (front) and Qu Chunyu of China compete in their heat of the women's 500m race at the International Skating Union Short Track Speed Skating World Cup at Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's national short track speed skating team has lost a top skater to injuries in the middle of the International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup season, adding to woes from a recent race-fixing scandal.
Choi Min-jeong was hurt in separate collisions during the opening World Cup competition in Beijing on Saturday. She is expected to miss at least the next competition in Japan starting Thursday with knee and ankle injuries.
In the women's 1,500m final, Kim Ji-yoo tried to cut inside Choi on the final corner and her right skate clipped Choi's left skate. Choi, Kim and a third Korean in the final, Lee Yu-bin, were 1-2-3 coming down the final stretch. But with Kim wiping out Choi, who crashed hard into the padded wall, Lee ended up with the lucky gold medal.
Choi wasn't so lucky later in the day either. In the 500m final, Choi was tripped up by Martina Valcepina moments after the Italian skater had lost her balance and fell. After going leg first into the wall, Choi still managed to earn bronze. But she missed the 1,000 quarterfinals held the next day.
Choi's Seoul-based agency, All That Sports, said Monday the skater returned home from China earlier in the day, while the rest of the national team flew to Nagoya, Japan, for the second World Cup competition scheduled for this week.
That leaves the women's squad with five skaters. An official with the Korea Skating Union (KSU) said there are logistical challenges to send an alternative skater so close to the race because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The national short track program is still reeling from a recent race-fixing scandal surrounding two-time Olympic champion Shim Suk-hee, who was dropped from the World Cup squad in the aftermath.
A series of text messages exchanged between Shim and a former national team coach raised suspicions that Shim had deliberately tripped up Choi out of spite during the 1,000m final at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The KSU has launched an investigation into the matter.
Countries will earn quota places for the Beijing Winter Olympics next year based on their performances at four World Cup events through the end of November. In the first leg, South Korea collected two gold, one silver and three bronze medals.
But South Korea would have won at least a couple more medals had Kim not skated into Choi in the 1,500m. Given that countries, not individual skaters, earn quota places for the Olympics, Kim's attempt to pass Choi on the last corner was unnecessary.
The men's team had issues of its own, most of them performance related. South Korea didn't have anyone in the men's 500m and 1,500m final. Hwang Dae-heon won gold in the 1,000m, but he was the lone South Korean competing for medals. And the 5,000m relay team received a yellow card in the final for impeding.
South Korea has been the most successful country in Olympic short track, with 24 gold medals and 48 medals overall since the sport became a medal event in 1992. (Yonhap)