- Two-time Olympic champion looking for hat trick in Pyeongchang.
|▲ Lee Sang-hwa at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Photo by kris krüg via Flickr|
Until several years ago, South Korea had never been considered a powerhouse in speed skating at the Olympics.
Kim Yoon-man became the first ever South Korean to medal at a Winter Games when he took the silver medal in the men’s 1,000 meters in Albertville in 1992.
Lee Kang-seok won bronze in the men’s 500 meters in Turin in 2006, while Mo Tae-bum and Lee Seung-hoon were double medalists at the Games in Vancouver in 2010.
This is the latest of Branko's articles on the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. To read more, check out his other articles.
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The Vancouver Winter Games also gave rise to another star who has cemented herself as one of the premier names the sport has seen in the past several years.
Lee Sang-hwa enters the Pyeongchang Games as the two-time defending gold medalist in the women’s 500 meter sprint.
In a recent poll, she was chosen as Korea’s top hope for a medal at these Games.
Coming into her final season, skating at the Olympics for a final time on home ice is seen as a perfect way to end her career.
She is coming into the Olympics full of optimism, having set a new track record at the Frillensee Cup in Germany last weekend with a time of 37.18 seconds.
She will be facing some tough competition this time around from the likes of Japan’s Nao Kodaira, who has swept the World Cup circuit thus far this season, winning all seven races.
It is certainly no mistake however that having a loyal crowd to cheer her on could prove to be the difference in this case. This will be the first time that Korea has hosted an Olympic Games in three decades, and the first time that a Winter Games is here.
Korea last hosted the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.
“I was so envious of skaters who got cheers from the home crowd when I was in Vancouver and Sochi. I thought how it would be nice if the Olympics take place in Korea. That has come true, and I’m thrilled by it,” she said in an interview for the Chosun Ilbo.
The 500 meters is without question her signature event, as it is the discipline in which she has won all seven of her world championship medals.
Lee had some difficulties due to injury last year, but it seems is now rounding into form at exactly the right time.
She has the opportunity to cement her position as one of the greatest athletes in Korean history if she indeed manages to win a third gold medal.
It would make her only the third skater in Olympic history to achieve the three-peat after American Bonnie Blair won gold in the 500 meters in 1988, 1992, and 1994, and Germany’s Claudia Pechstein was crowned champion in the 5,000 meters from 1994 to 2002.
Lee will also compete in the 1,000 meters at these Games, but the 500 meters will be held on February 18th, making it the date that the entire country should circle on its calendar, as it presents a chance for Olympic history to be made right here at home.
Branko Belan firstname.lastname@example.org