Beijing D-21: S. Korean athletes gunning for gold at Winter Olympics
Updated: 2022-01-17 05:37:51 KST
The 2022 Beijing Winter Games are now just three weeks away and South Korea's Olympic committee has set its mission at winning one or two gold medals and ranking in the world's top fifteen a modest goal for the previous host country who, just four years ago at Pyeonchang 2018 bagged a total of seventeen medals five of them gold.
"Winning more is good, of course. But given the circumstances, I think one or two is a reasonable number."
Injuries, trouble behind the scenes, and obviously, COVID-19 disruptions have lowered the bar but those issues haven't discouraged Team Korea.
"That the goal is set at one or two gold medals doesn't mean we can't win more."
"The goal doesn't hold much meaning for athletes, really. It's all up to us. More important are what goals we set for ourselves."
Despite the official goal, expectations remain high especially for short track speed skating which the country has been dominating on the international stage across several Winter Olympics just like in archery at the Summer Games.
Out of a total of 31 gold medals won by South Korea in the Winter Games, 24 have come from short track. That's more than China, Canada and the United States' tallies combined.
But with China hosting the Games, Korean skaters will inevitably be up against the home ice advantage enjoyed by their greatest rivals.
Nevertheless, Hwang Dae-heon, who won the silver medal in the men's 500 meter event four years ago, has his eyes locked on continuing South Korea's golden legacy.
"When you talk short track speed skating, you talk South Korea. We're the best and we're training with high intensity so Beijing will be no different as long as we concentrate. I'm going to give this Olympics my all and make everyone watching proud."
It's a mission he shares with the women's team ace, Choi Min-jeong, who has the highest chance among Korean athletes to win multiple medals like she did in Pyeongchang, winning gold in the 1,500 meter and 3,000 meter relay.
"I think we can double the happiness Korean fans will feel if we repay their support with higher-than-expected performances."
In long track speed skating, all eyes will be on Chung Jae-won, for whom Beijing is a chance to skate out of Olympic champion Lee Seung-hoon's shadow in the mass start, no longer as a pacemaker but now as a serious medal contender.
"A lot of preparation went into how I feel about myself right now. Skill-wise, I'm super confident.
Kim Min-seok, meanwhile, will be gunning for gold in the 1,500 meter a race that requires both elite speed and endurance. He won bronze four years ago the first time an Asian has ever made the podium in the event.
Another spectacle on ice to look out for is, of course, one of the jewels of the Winter Olympics: women's figure skating.
Now retired, 2010 Olympic champion Kim Yuna has left in her wake an endless wave of new talent, collectively known as the "Yuna Kids". They are spearheaded by seventeen year-old You Young, who was too young to compete in Pyeongchang.
She's since grown to become the new face of Korean figure skating and recently claimed her ticket to the Beijing Games by clinching first place in the national Olympic trials, showcasing her signature triple Axel.
"I can't believe I'm finally heading to my first ever Winter Olympics the stage of my dreams since I was little. I'm going to train hard and do my best to shine bright."
Men's figure skater Cha Joon-hwan is set to compete in his career's second Winter Games where he'll be aiming for another top ten spot or
Who knows? Maybe even a podium finish.
"I'm looking forward to going far. I'll have to execute a clean performance of the programs I've been preparing for without any regrets. I'm going to give it my best shot."
And on snow, alpine snowboarder Lee Sang-ho will be competing for the top prize in the parallel giant slalom, where he won silver four years ago.
Nicknamed "Cabbage Boy" for how he first took up the sport on the snowy cabbage fields of Jeongseon-gun County, Lee has recovered from shoulder surgery in 2020 to produce some stellar World Cup performances this season.
One surprise gold medal in 2018 came in sledding from skeleton racer Yun Sung-bin, who practically introduced his country to a sport that's now become a Korean Winter Olympic favorite.
He faces tougher competition this time, though.
It's highly likely he'll be competing against up-and-coming fellow countryman Jung Seung-gi, who currently outranks Yun.
Jung even claimed his first World Cup medal recently, winning bronze in this season's sixth competition in Latvia.
"My running start is the greatest competitive advantage I have, and to maximize it, I'll be focusing on building up my stamina leading up to the Olympics Once I'm there, I'll enjoy the festive mood with my fellow Olympians as much as possible, but at the same time be grinding my game so I can get on the podium."
Last but not least, don't forget curling's Team Kim
After finishing runners up four years ago, the "Young-mi " sensation continues in Beijing where the sisterhood of Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Cho-hi, Kim Kyeong-ae and Kim Young-mi will this time try to go one better and curl their way to gold.
Han Seong-woo, Arirang News, Pyeongchang.