Cha Min-kyu of South Korea competes in the men's 500m race at the National Sprint Speed Skating Championships at Taeneung International Rink in Seoul last Friday. (Yonhap)
Of the seven medals that South Korea won in speed skating at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, none was more surprising than the out-of-the-blue silver by Cha Min-kyu in the men's 500m.
Sure, he had won an odd medal here and there at other international races, but an Olympic podium finish was completely unexpected.
But lost in the hoopla over that silver was just how close Cha came to winning gold. At 34.42 seconds, Cha ended up only 0.01 second back of the gold medalist, Havard Lorentzen of Norway.
Speaking last Friday after winning the overall crown at the National Sprint Speed Skating Championships in Seoul, Cha said it had taken him a while before it finally hit him that he came within a whisker of an unlikely Olympic gold.
"As time passed, I gradually became more disappointed," Cha said outside Taeneung International Rink. "That has driven me to win gold at the next Olympics."
Cha, 28, hasn't been able to build on that Olympic silver, though. In this past International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup season, Cha ranked 10th overall in the 1,000m and 11th in the 500m. And as had been the case four years ago, he isn't regarded as a strong medal contender.
But this could also mean that, if Cha wins another medal this time, it will once again come as a shock, regardless of its color.
"I think I've been getting better, little by little, over the past four years," Cha said. "I have not done so well at recent World Cup races, but I am trying hard to put on a better performance at the Olympics."
Cha said he has become stronger over the years, and he has developed more confidence in the 1,000m.
"I have been inconsistent at times, and I need to address that," Cha said. "I am also trying to minimize small mistakes. I want to surprise people once again." (Yonhap)