WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 28, 2010) – The Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington reports that the nation is ecstatic with the success of its Winter Olympic Team. It was a grand closing ceremony in Canada wrapping up the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics that lasted from February 12-28, 2010.
The big event was an equally eye-opening moment for Korea too, seeing how their men and women had excelled in the field that was once considered out of reach only a few years ago. The 46-member Korean national team collected six gold, six silver and two bronze, adding up to 14 medals.
This placed Korea in seventh place in the medal count, following the United States (37), Germany (30), Canada (26), Norway (23), Austria (16) and Russian Federation (15).
Korea’s figure skater Kim Yu-na, 19, the winner of the Ladies Single Figure Skating event didn’t just win the gold medal. She made world records – again — with 78.50 for her short program and 150.06 for her free skating that totaled 228.56 points. She outdid all her rivals by nearly 23 points at least, dazzling the judges and audience alike with her James Bond Medley and George Gershwin’s Concerto in F.
Having won the 2009 World Championship, the Four Continents Champion and the series of Grand Prix Finals among other victories since her junior skating days, Kim was the gold medal favorite from the very start.
Upon Yu-na’s victory, NBC likened her to Jamaican runner Usain Bolt on the running track and U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps in the pool.
Before, serious skating for Koreans was largely limited to short-track events. Figure skating was off limits. Kim Yu-na’s sudden emergence a few years ago changed all that. Her spell-binding performance caused many in Korea to memorize triple axel, double toe-loop and sit-spins, and overall, open their eyes to another realm of fun and passion.
Her somewhat media-hyped rivalry with Japanese skater Asada Mao, who won silver in the Olympics, and her life story of hard practice and pain have contributed to drawing even more fans over time.
Kim is now off to the ISU World Championships Turin 2010 in Italy, slated for Mar. 22 to 28. She is to return to Korea in April for the show “2010 Festa on Ice” (Apr. 16). She is scheduled to appear once again in the show “2010 Stars on Ice,“ this summer in August.
Meanwhile there is another Korea figure skater — Kwak Min-jung, Kim’s junior, who came 13th in the Olympic finals, an impressive feat for a 16-year old. She is expected to perform well at the World Championship in March and prove that Kim is only the start of Korea’s figure skating history.
Who knew techniques of short-track skating could be applied to speed skating? Three new Korean heroes are born.
Lee Seung-hoon, 22, was the first to break the good news just after the opening of the Olympics. He won silver in the men’s 5,000-member speed skating competition. The feat alone made him the first in Asia to win any medal in long-track skating, finishing at 6:16.95 seconds, trailing behind the Dutch champion Sven Kramer by slightly over 2 seconds.
Then a week later Lee literally struck gold when he won the 10,000 meter event clocking in at 12:58.55 seconds and pulling up the existing Olympic record by 0.37 seconds. Though the gold stumbled upon him by chance due to a last-minute mistake by Dutch champion Sven Kramer, who was in first place, Kim still worked hard for his prize. His medals came only seven months after he changed his field from short- to long-track speed skating.
Mo tae-beom, 21, became the first Korean to grab gold in a Vancouver event, winning the 500-meter speed skating event, finishing off with 34.923 seconds. Two days later he was awarded silver in the men’s 1,000-meter event, crossing the finish at 1:0912 seconds, just behind the front runner Shani Davis by 0.18 seconds. In his medal ceremony he wore a quirky pumpkin-sized hat and danced in the stadium.
Lee Sang-hwa, 21, won gold in the women’s 500-meter speed skating event and stood proud with Mo. She came in at 76.09 seconds, narrowly defeating the other gold medal favorite Jenny Wolf. She was already listed as a favorite to win the medal in Korea as winner of the women’s World Sprint Speed Skating Championships in Hokkaido, Japan, in January.
Short-track speed skating was regarded Korea’s own playground, having collected so many medals in this field alone. At the Turin Olympics alone, the Korean team won six gold, three silver and one bronze. A few unfortunate mistakes spoiled the track this year, however.
It was quite a story from the short-track team. In the men’s 1,500-meter event Korea’s Lee Jung-su, 21, took the gold. Korea was close to winning silver and bronze as well, but the last minute slip-up that sent two skaters sliding out of the lane gave those medals to the U.S. team and became a discussion point for Korean audiences. In the men’s 1,000-meter race Lee again won, followed by Lee Ho-suk, 23, who took the silver medal.
Two more medals were added from the women’s 1,500-meter race, a silver from Lee Eun-byul, 19, and a bronze from Park Seung-hi, 18. Park won another bronze in the women’s 1,000 meter race. Sung Si-bak, who crashed in the earlier race, later won two silver medals in the men’s 500 meter event and as part of the team in the men’s 5,000-meter relay.
At one time in Korea, winning was the only thing that mattered. The latest Vancouver Olympics showed that society is finally discovering many unsung heroes of the games who did their best no matter the result.
In the speed skating Lee Gyu-hyuk, 32, bid goodbye to his final Olympics after five consecutive games that left him with no medals. Having been brought up in a speed skating family, he was in the national team since the age of 13, sweeping many international competitions yet he was always out of luck at the Olympics. Fans wrote encouraging messages online.
Unpopular sports (in Korea) have their stories to tell, too. At the Vancouver Olympics Korea sent 12 athletes to six skiing events – alpine skiing, cross-country, ski jump, free style skiing, snow board and biathlon. None of them got very far, unfortunately.
In the cross country Lee Chae-won made it as far as 63rd in the ladies’ 10km free style but failed to make it to the top 40. Jeong Dong-hyeon, who competed in alpine skiing, got a nasty cut on his thigh during the event and was unable to recuperate in time. Seo Jeong-hwa in the ladies’ freestyle skiing missed the final round by 0.04 of a second. Kim Ho-joon became the first Korean to compete in the snowboard half-pipe and went as far as 12th place in the preliminary competitions. Nonetheless for Korean athletes, many are seeing it as the beginning of a new field with much potential.