| Korea`s men`s short track speed skating is getting an unkind treatment. With the Sochi Winter Olympics less than a month away, the national men`s short track team has become a sidekick.
Until four years ago, men`s short track speed skating was Korea`s biggest contributor to winter Olympics. Among the 23 gold medals Korea had won up to 2010 Vancouver Olympics, 10 were from men`s short track skating. However, due to sluggish performance in recent international competitions, it is receiving cold responses from media and fans. It is getting chilly feedback from abroad too.
U.S. NBC Sports picked Victor Ahn (Korean name is Ahn Hyun-soo) who naturalized as Russian citizen, Charles Hamelin of Canada and J.R. Celski of the U.S. as worth notice for men`s short track speed skating of Sochi Olympics. These three players won gold medals at 500 meter, 1,000 meter and 1,500 meter races, respectively, in the fourth competition of World Cup held in Russia in November last year.
○ It ain`t over `til it`s over
At Taeneung ice field Wednesday, Korea`s men`s short track team, including Shin Da-un, Lee Han-bin, Park Se-young, Noh Jin-kyu and Kim Yoon-jae were training hard, breathing raggedly. Coaches were shouting to them to speed up.
After returning from World Cup fourth competition in mid-November, the team had just one day of rest and resumed hard training. Korea`s national short track team starts training at 5 a.m. every day. When regular training is over at 6:30 p.m., individual training starts. Among athletes in the Taeneung training center, they are the first wake up and last to go to sleep.
Their goal is regaining the impaired reputation. Lee Han-bin, the eldest in the team, said, "Sluggish performance at World Cup was a powerful stimulus. Everyone in the team is training so hard."
The athletes are also gaining speed fast. They are approaching the level of March last year when they had the highest speed. Shin Da-un who went through a lot of distress after gaining no medal at the first to fourth rounds of World Cup also has much recovered confidence. National team coach Yoon Jae-myung said, "Speed and endurance have hugely improved for all of them. All of them think they can give a try."
○ Korea`s record is on us
The Korean national teams` first goal in Sochi Olympics is winning at least four gold medals to enter top 10 for the third straight year. They expect a gold medal from Kim Yu-na in figure skating, Lee Sang-hwa in speed skating and two gold medals in women`s short track skating. Men`s short track has been excluded in the anticipated gold medal list.
With much less burden, men`s short track skaters are considered as a dark horse to determine Korea`s performance. If Korea gets better-than-expected result, it can surpass its previous record of six medals posted in the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics.
The first test bed is men`s 1,500-meter short track game on February 10. If a surprising gold medal is gained on the first day of short track games, Korea`s medal quest can get a boost. Coach Yoon said, "Short track speed skating is full of body battles due to an unexpected outcome. If we get off on a right foot in the men뭩 1,500-meter race, we may gain unexpected medals." Three players will shoot in the 1,500 race.