Yun Sung-bin

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Host South Korea seeks Olympic sliding breakthrough in skeleton

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Korean skeleton star Yun Sungbin is absolutely obsessed with Iron Man. He collects the figurines. He’s seen the movies. He knows every aspect of the superhero’s story.

Some even call him Iron Man. He may be called Gold Man soon.

South Korea has 26 gold medals in its Winter Olympic history — all on ice, all with skates involved, most from speed skating.

The nation doesn’t have much of a sliding history, but has made great strides as it builds momentum to host the PyeongChang Games.

And Yun is certainly one of the host nation’s top gold hopefuls, looking to parlay his home-track advantage into big things.

“I do believe that if I focus on what I should do, then everything will come out great,” Yun said in early January, according to South Korea’s JoongAng Daily.

He could be right.

Yun was the only slider on the circuit to finish first or second in each of the first six World Cup races this season.

If there’s any pressure on him as he goes into his second Olympics, and obviously his first at home, it’s not showing.

He will face serious competition from the Latvian brother duo of Martins Dukurs and Tomass Dukurs, while Matt Antoine of the United States — a Sochi bronze medalist — has been trying to build his entire season around peaking in PyeongChang.

In women’s skeleton, Great Britain might have a chance at a third straight gold from a third different woman.

Laura Deas will look to carry on her team’s tradition of winning the sport’s biggest race, after Amy Williams in 2010 and Lizzy Yarnold in 2014.

Since skeleton returned to the Olympic program in 2002, a British woman won gold, silver or bronze every time.

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Here’s some of what to know going into skeleton in PyeongChang:

MEDAL FAVORITES
The women’s race could be wide open with no fewer than 10 medal contenders from seven countries. Yun will be the men’s favorite, and since the host South Koreans have far more runs down the track at the Alpensia Sliding Center than anyone else, his familiarity there could be the edge he needs.

WHAT IS IT
No, you may not call it “headfirst luge.” Skeleton sliders go down the track headfirst, on a very different sled than those in the luge world, but can reach speeds exceeding 80 mph (128.74 kph). There’s a sprint at the start as racers hang onto their sled, then they jump aboard and go on a wild ride for the next minute or so.

BEST RIVALRY
Nothing like a sibling rivalry, and in this case, poor Tomass Dukurs. The Latvian is one of the sport’s very best sliders right now, but is also second-best in his own family. His brother Martins Dukurs finishes ahead of him more than 90 percent of the time when they’ve both been entered in the same international competition.

RISING STARS
The future of women’s skeleton is clear. Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling is 22, Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje is 23, and they have been consistently better than everyone else this season. This could be the start of a real Olympic rivalry.

RULE CHANGES
A World Cup has two heats on one day; an Olympic competition has four heats over two days.

DEFENDING SOMETHING
These are strange times in the Olympic world because of the still-developing fallout from the doping scandal that ensnared the host Russians at Sochi 2014, one that led to many medals getting stripped — but not yet reallocated.

So Martins Dukurs, who finished second in 2014, may go to PyeongChang and still not know if he’s the defending gold medalist in his event.

Katie Uhlaender, the hard-luck American veteran who has spent half her life chasing an Olympic medal, might be getting one because she finished fourth behind a since-banned Russian in Sochi four years ago. “I have to focus on what I can control, and I have to focus on myself,” Uhlaender said.

DON’T MISS
Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada is a 38-year-old who once was a teacher and part-time bus driver before deciding to pursue his Olympic skeleton hopes. He’s called Alphabet, for obvious reasons.

OLYMPIAN EFFORT
John Daly of the U.S. will make headlines for his super-coiffed hair. He retired after a last-run disaster in Sochi, then came back while holding down a full-time job, and everything he’s done over the last two years has been about getting ready for this race. He’ll go for broke, and it may net him a medal.

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MORE: First U.S. skeleton slider qualifies for PyeongChang

South Korea second skeleton team to boycott Sochi World Championships

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The Korea Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (KBSF) is reportedly the second federation to announce a boycott of the upcoming world championships, meaning two of the top three skeleton sliders will not compete in the biggest competition of the season.

Only the KBSF skeleton team has announced a boycott; according to South Korean media, no decision has been announced by the bobsled team.

The IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships are set to be held in Feb. 2017 in Sochi, Russia. Other nations, including the U.S., have threatened to boycott in the wake of the McLaren report, which contained serious allegations about a state-run doping program that involved 1,000 Russian athletes.

The Latvian skeleton federation, home to the reigning world champion in skeleton, was the first to announce that they would not participate in the world championships if they are not moved out of Russia.

Their announcement stated:

“We will be glad to race in World Championships at any track of the world, but WE ARE NOT PARTICIPATING in World Championships in Sochi, Russia – a place where Olympic spirit was stolen in 2014.”

Latvia’s Martins Dukurs, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, won skeleton gold at last year’s world championships, and South Korea’s Yun Sung-bin tied for silver.

With both athletes boycotting, Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov would be a clear favorite to win the world title. Tretyakov tied with Sung-bun for world silver in 2016, was the Olympic champion in Sochi and is one of the athletes named on the Sochi doping list, as first reported by The New York Times in May.

MORE: Top skeleton slider’s federation boycotts Sochi world championships