The Korea Herald


[BEIJING OLYMPICS] Choi Min-jeong shakes off injuries, scandal for hard-fought short track silver

By Yonhap

Published : Feb. 11, 2022 - 22:35

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Choi Min-jeong of South Korea competes in the women's 1,000m final in short track speed skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics at Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on Friday. (Yonhap) Choi Min-jeong of South Korea competes in the women's 1,000m final in short track speed skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics at Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on Friday. (Yonhap)
BEIJING -- What had been a subpar Olympics in Beijing for South Korean short tracker Choi Min-jeong changed for the better in a hurry Friday, as she captured the silver medal in the women's 1,000m.

Choi finished just behind the winner, Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands, in the exciting final at Capital Indoor Stadium. The Dutch star crossed the line in 1:28.391, with Choi right on her heels at 1:28.443.

Choi had been shut out of medals in Beijing until Friday. Her first crack came on the first day of the short track competition last Saturday, when she joined three teammates for the inaugural mixed team relay. But South Korea got knocked out of the quarterfinals after Park Jang-hyuk fell with three laps to go.

Choi, 23, herself took an unfortunate fall, without contact, during the women's 500m quarterfinals Monday. It left one of the world's best short trackers searching for answers on tricky ice at Capital Indoor Stadium that laid to waste other medal hopefuls.

After her training session Thursday, Choi said, without divulging anything specific, she had come up with some strategies that would help her stay on her feet.

And from the quarterfinals and all the way through the final, Choi was at her strategic best, making passes on the outside with her superb bursts of speed and not risking unnecessary contact or, worse, penalties on the inside.

Choi's strategy worked to almost perfection. She hung back in the pack for the early part of the final before trying to charge into the lead. But Schulting, the 2018 Olympic champion in the 1,000m, was too fast, and Choi simply ran out of real estate at the end.

"I had to stick to my strengths in critical situations," Choi said afterward of her race plans. "I trusted in my abilities. I wasn't thinking about how difficult (the final race) would be."

At PyeongChang 2018, Choi won gold medals in the 1,500m and the 3,000m relay. She also reached the finals in the 500m and 1,000m but came up emptyhanded in both. She was penalized in the former and got tangled up with teammate Shim Suk-hee and fell in the latter.

That incident with Shim came to be viewed in a much different light last fall, when Shim's expletive-laden text message exchanges with a national team coach got leaked. In one thread, Shim seemed to suggest she would try to take down Choi on purpose out of spite.

Shim was ultimately cleared of that particular suspicion, but she still received a two-month ban from the Korea Skating Union in December that ruled her out of Beijing for disparaging her teammates and coaches. The bridge between Shim and Choi may also have been burned beyond repair. Choi once publicly called on Shim to stop phoning her and texting her in a belated attempt to apologize.

The Shim saga added woes to an already trying season for Choi, who suffered knee and ankle injuries in separate crashes during an International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup race in October.

That Choi gathered herself, both mentally and physically, for Beijing proved she has the kind of mettle it takes to win an Olympic medal.

Asked about the incident from 2018, Choi took a few moments to collect herself and choked back on tears before saying, "There were some difficult moments then, but they helped me become the skater that I am today."

"I am grateful for that," Choi added. "I think I was able to grab this silver medal today, because I endured such adversity." (Yonhap)