Republic of Korea dominate the speed skating scene in Lillehammer

Picture by Jed Leicester YIS/IOC

Victorious in every individual event bar one at Lillehammer 2016, Republic of Korea’s young speed skaters showed they could well be a force to be reckoned with on home ice at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Predicting how young sportspeople will fare later in their careers is always a risky business. Athlete development is never an exact science and leading juniors do not always kick on to become the best in the world at senior level. That said, if the outstanding performances of Republic of Korea’s young speed skaters at Lillehammer 2016 are anything to go by, they could be about to embark on a golden era.

Al Tielemans for YIS/IOC

The Koreans dominated proceedings from the start at the legendary Olympic Hall Viking Ship in Hamar, with 18-year-old Kim Min Sun easing her way to gold in the ladies’ 500m and more than living up to her nickname of “Little Lee”, a moniker given to her in tribute to her compatriot Lee Sang-Hwa, a double Olympic champion at the distance.

“Lee is an amazing role model for all Korean skaters, so I’m very happy,” she said of the comparison, after topping the podium from China’s Han Mei and Li Huawei.

Al Tielemans for YIS/IOC

The only individual gold that Republic of Korea’s skaters failed to make theirs in Lillehammer was the men’s500m, which was won by China’s Li Yanzhe, with Japan’s Kabuki Sakakibara taking silver and the Korean Chung Jae Woong the bronze. “I was very nervous on the ice, but I calmed myself down and it feels very nice to win,” said Li after his victory.

Park Jo Woo and Kim Min Seok at the double

Thomas Lovelock for YIS/IOC

The irrepressible Koreans scored a double in the 1,500m two days later, as Park Ji Woo claimed gold in the ladies’ event and Kim Min Seok did likewise in the men’s. “We are already number one in the world at junior level, I believe,” said Park. “Every Korean skate athlete seems to be getting a medal, so I desperately wanted one, too.”

The pair soon had two golds each to their names, respectively taking the honours in the women’s and men’smass start events. Park secured an emphatic win over China’s Han Mei and her 500m-gold-medal-winning compatriot Kim Min Sun, while Kim Min Seok again followed suit, this team beating fellow countryman Chung Jae Woong and Norway’s Allan Dahl Johansson in the sprint for the line.

Jon Buckle for YIS/IOC

The spirit that underpins the Winter Youth Olympic Games was reflected in the mixed NOC team sprint, which brought athletes from different countries together in pursuit of victory. This new event produced a little piece of history as Sumiya Buyantogtokh of Mongolia became her country’s first ever Winter Games medallist, sharing the top of the podium with her Team 6 colleagues Noemi Bonazza of Italy, Shen Hanyang of China and that man Chung again.

The young Korean skaters certainly made themselves at home at the Viking Ship in Hamar, and many of them will now be hoping to continue their speedy development and book places at the senior Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang in two years’ time, where they may well pose a threat to the Netherlands, who proved so dominant themselves at Sochi 2014.