Short Track Speedskating

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South Korean star switches events in last try to make Olympic team

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Lee Jung-Su, the last South Korean man to win short track gold, has reportedly switched to long-track speed skating after failing to make the PyeongChang Olympic short track team.

Lee, 27, won the 1000m and 1500m at the 2010 Vancouver Games in South Korea’s most successful Winter Olympic sport.

He made this same switch four years ago after missing the 2014 Olympic team in short track but did not make the Sochi long-track team, either, according to Yonhap News Agency.

After his countrymen went medal-less in Sochi, Lee switched back to short track and was the top South Korean skater the last World Cup season, ranking sixth in the world.

But Lee made zero A finals at the world championships and reportedly placed eighth at the Olympic Trials in April, missing the five-man Olympic team.

Lee is focusing on the new Olympic event of mass start, which is similar to short track pack skating but on the long-track oval, according to Yonhap.

The mass start is nearly 6000m and takes nearly eight minutes, more than three times that of the longest individual Olympic short track event.

South Korea can put no more than two men into the Olympic mass start. A favorite is Lee Seung-Hoon, the 2010 Olympic 10,000m champion who won the 2016 World title in mass start.

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Viktor Ahn prepared for boos at PyeongChang Olympics

Viktor Ahn
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The most decorated South Korean-born Olympian is ready for the very real possibility that he gets booed while competing at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Short track speed skater Viktor Ahn won his first four Olympic medals for South Korea in 2006 as Ahn-Hyun Soo.

His next four came for Russia in 2014, after Ahn’s falling out with South Korea’s short track powers and nationality switch.

Now, the 31-year-old Ahn is preparing for what should be his last Olympics.

He has competed as a Russian in World Cups in South Korea in 2013 and 2016, but PyeongChang will of course be on another level.

“I think the crowd’s reaction may bother me, but I won’t think about that now,” Ahn said while at a Russian training camp in South Korea on Monday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “It’s something I have to deal with, and I braced myself for this ever since I first got my Russian passport. Not everyone will think of me the same way.”

It might be logical to believe Ahn would get booed while competing in his birth country for a different nation.

But NBC Olympic analyst Apolo Ohno, a former rival of Ahn’s, has said the South Korean public was more upset with the country’s short track officials than Ahn for his leaving. While Ahn won three golds in Sochi, no South Korean man made the top five of any race for the first time in Olympic history.

“He’ll be an absolute superstar [in PyeongChang],” Ohno said in November 2014. “I think they’ll get over [that he competes for Russia]. He’s an anomaly.”

Ahn, who was .077 away from sweeping all four Sochi Olympic golds, earned just one medal at this past season’s world championships, a bronze, after taking the 2015-16 season off.

“Throughout my career, I’ve competed under a lot of pressure,” Ahn said Monday, according to Yonhap. “At the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, I want to have fun skating, rather than worry about results.”

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MORE: Apolo Ohno on Ahn’s Olympic outlook

South Koreans identify preferred PyeongChang Olympic athletes, sports

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South Koreans are most interested in attending short track speed skating, the Opening Ceremony, ski jumping and figure skating at the PyeongChang Winter Games in February.

A survey of 1,000 people by the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism conducted in May resulted in 63 percent of respondents saying they believed the first Winter Olympics in South Korea would succeed. It marked an eight percent increase from an April survey.

About 40 percent said they were interested in the Olympics, a four percent increase, with nine percent saying they would attend.

The following events were the most popular for interest in buying tickets:

Short Track Speed Skating — 39 percent
Opening Ceremony — 31 percent
Ski Jumping — 30 percent
Figure Skating — 27 percent
Hockey — 23 percent

South Korea is of course dominant in short track. Of its 53 Winter Olympic medals, 42 have come in that sport, most by any nation.

Nine more came in long-track speed skating, with now-retired figure skater Yuna Kim taking the other two medals.

However, South Korea has never finished higher than eighth in an Olympic ski jumping event. The 2018 Olympic ski jumping venue has earned some attention, though, as it doubles as a soccer stadium for a club team.

Respondents also chose their most anticipated South Korean athlete of the Winter Games, with two-time Olympic long-track speed skating 500m champion Lee Sang-Hwa receiving the most votes of 79.

She was followed by another long track skater, 2010 Olympic 10,000m champion Lee Seung-Hoon, and short track skaters Shim Shuk-Hee and Choi Min-Jeong.

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