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[BEIJING OLYMPICS] Emerging speed skater ready for starring role in Beijing

In this file photo from Jan. 27, 2022, Chung Jae-won of South Korea competes in the men's 500m at the National Speed Skating Championships at Taeneung International Rink in Seoul. (Yonhap)
In this file photo from Jan. 27, 2022, Chung Jae-won of South Korea competes in the men's 500m at the National Speed Skating Championships at Taeneung International Rink in Seoul. (Yonhap)
At the tender age of 16 in his first Olympic appearance at PyeongChang 2018, South Korean speed skater Chung Jae-won willingly played a supporting role for older teammates.

Stronger and better than before, Chung is now ready to take up a more prominent position on the national team at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

"I will be asked to handle more responsibilities," Chung said after his first training session at the National Speed Skating Oval on Saturday. "I will have to do much more for the team (than in PyeongChang)."

In 2018, Chung acted as a pacemaker to help Lee Seung-hoon win gold in the men's mass start. In the team pursuit, Lee, then competing in his third Olympics, was the leader of the South Korean trio that featured Chung and Kim Min-seok, another teenager. In team pursuit races, skaters often take turns being out in front, a position where they meet the most air resistance. For South Korea then, Lee spent the bulk of the time in that spot.

Over the intervening years, Chung has rounded into a force to be reckoned with, while Lee, at 33, has been in decline of late. In an interview earlier Saturday, Lee willingly acknowledged he isn't close to being the same skater that he had been and he would have to rely on Chung heavily in the team pursuit event.

And Chung isn't afraid of the challenge, because he feels he now has the requisite physical and mental maturity

"I am more comfortable skating in the Olympics than four years ago," Chung said. "At PyeongChang, I was a nervous wreck even for training runs. And I kept battling nerves throughout the Olympics. Now, I can handle the stress better and I can concentrate better during training. I think I've improved both physically and mentally."

Chung will race in the team pursuit and the mass start again in Beijing. He said he feels he has a chance to win a medal in both races, but he will first focus on the team pursuit, with the quarterfinals set for next Sunday, followed by the final on Feb. 15. The mass start will take place on Feb. 19.

"We have the same trio back from PyeongChang and we have great chemistry," Chung said. "But no matter how hard you've worked, it's extremely difficult to win an Olympic medal. We shouldn't try to do too much on the ice and just concentrate on executing our plans."

The new "ace" label has not fazed the 20-year-old.

"I don't feel any pressure with that designation," Chung said. "It just means people are supporting me. I will try to have mistake-free races." (Yonhap)

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