Republic of Korean short track starlets lay down PyeongChang marker in Lillehammer

Picture by Al Tielemans YIS/IOC

Republic of Korea’s short track speed skaters blew away the competition at the Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Hall, and have the potential to make their mark on the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

Mirroring the successful displays of their similarly grey-clad speed skating compatriots, who racked up several gold medals in Hamar Olympic Hall, the Republic of Korea’s four short track specialists put on a remarkable show in Gjøvik.

(From left) Jiyoo Kim KOR, Yize Zang (CHN, Shione Kaminaga JPN © Al Tielemans for YIS/IOC

By the time the short track speed skating competition had drawn to a close, the only individual title that had not been claimed by a Korean athlete was the women’s 500m, due to the disqualification of Kim Jiyoo and Lee Suyoun, who had initially finished first and second but were retroactively judged to have pushed then leader Petra Jaszapati (HUN). The final podium was therefore made up of China’s Zang Yize (gold medal), Jaszapati (silver) and Bulgaria’s Katrin Manoilova (bronze), who had emerged victorious from the “B” final.

Kyunghwan Hong KOR celebrates after winning gold © Jed Leicester for YIS/IOC

Aside from this setback, the Koreans, typified by Hong Kyunghwan, who comfortably secured gold ahead of Kazuki Yoshinaga (JPN) and Ma Wei (CHN) in the men’s 500m, were in unbeatable form.

In the 1,000m, the opening short track event held on 14 February in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, Hwang Daeheon saw off the challenges of Ma Wei and Hungary’s Liu Shaoang, while in the women’s final Kim Jiyoo and Lee Suyoun finished first and second, relegating Anna Seidel (GER) to the bronze-medal position.

In both 1,000m finals, the young Korean winners were able to produce breath-taking bursts of acceleration during the penultimate lap to surge to the front of the race, an aspect which their astute coaching staff have emphasised greatly. “We have a unique way of training and our coaches have given us so much great advice,” said Kim Jiyoo. “I’m so happy to win this gold medal alongside my team-mate and friend.”

“Follow them and you’ll win a medal!”

Quentin Fercoq FRA © Jon Buckle for YIS/IOC

Even the victorious quartet in the mixed NOC team relay included a Korean skater, namely the ubiquitous Kim Jiyoo, who joined forces with Norway’s Ane By Farstad, Belgium’s Stijn Desmet and France’s Quentin Fercoq in Team 2 to cross the line just ahead of Team 3. This event was all the more remarkable for the incredible teamwork on display from skaters who had barely met each other.

(From left) Jiyoo Kim KOR, Petra Jaszapati HUN, Anna Seidel GER © Al Tielemans for YIS/IOC

For the majority of the athletes competing in Gjøvik, their lasting memory of the short track events will be watching the grey Korean outfits disappear off into the distance. “The Koreans were so fast,” said 1,000m bronze medallist Seidel. “I said to myself, follow them and you’ll win a medal!”

Short track is the discipline in which the Republic of Korea has historically enjoyed the greatest success at the Olympic Winter Games. In Lillehammer, this new and exciting generation of skaters took part in what was an ideal rehearsal for PyeongChang 2018. In two years’ time, it would be no great surprise to see the likes of Kim Jiyoo, Lee Suyoun, Hong Kyunghwan and Hwang Daeheon repeating their incredible YOG feats in their homeland.