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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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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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Heather Bergsma, Joey Mantia close speed skating worlds with titles

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Only the Netherlands earned more gold medals at the world single distance championships than the U.S., which bodes well for a PyeongChang bounce-back for American speed skaters who struggled in Sochi.

Sochi Olympians Heather Bergsma and Joey Mantia finished off worlds with titles in the 1500m and mass start, respectively. The U.S. earned four medals overall at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea.

Bergsma bagged three of them, setting up to perhaps be the top U.S. medal winner in any sport at the PyeongChang Olympics. Full worlds results are here.

A day after winning the 1000m, Bergsma outdueled Dutch star Ireen Wuest in the final pair of the 1500m on Sunday. Bergsma, with more early speed than 3000m champ Wuest, was six tenths of a second ahead going into the last lap.

“I definitely had to dig deep in the second lap, because if she would already have been ahead of me, mentally I would have been shut down,” Bergsma said, according to a press release.

Wuest, the most decorated woman in Sochi with five medals, closed in the final 400 meters but not enough, crossing one tenth after Bergsma.

“This was the exact draw that I did not want, starting in the inner lane versus Heather,” Wuest said. “Then it was up to me to stay calm and try to catch up in the last part of the race, which I managed, but the finish line came 30 meters too soon. Well, I guess you can’t change it in a 1530m, can you?”

Bergsma, who moved to the Netherlands after missing the medals in Sochi and married Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma, now owns world titles in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m in her career. Plus a world sprint title and the world record in the 1500m.

Later Sunday, Bergsma took bronze in the mass start, a new Olympic event where skaters race in a pack rather than in pairings. The mass start is similar to short track speed skating, except on a larger oval and at a longer distance (16 laps, which takes about eight minutes).

Mantia edged France’s Alexis Contin for gold in the men’s mass start Sunday, his first Olympic or world medal after transitioning from inline skating to the ice in 2011.

Four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis placed 11th in the 1500m won by the Netherlands’ Kjeld Nuis. Davis was fifth in the 1000m on Saturday.

In 2013, the U.S. earned three medals (no golds) at worlds at the 2014 Olympic venue. Then in Sochi, the top individual American finish was seventh, marking the first medal-less Winter Games by U.S. long-track speed skaters since 1984.

MORE: PyeongChang Olympics daily schedule highlights