Lee Sang-Hwa, fastest female speed skater in history, retires

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Lee Sang-Hwa, a two-time Olympic 500m champion and the fastest woman ever in that sprint, has retired, according to South Korean media.

Lee, 30, had not competed on the World Cup since taking silver at the PyeongChang Olympics, where she was one of the host nation’s most high-profile athletes.

In fact, a pre-Games survey of 1,000 people by the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism ranked Lee as the most anticipated South Korean athlete of the Olympics.

The self-described “Lego maniac” debuted at the Olympics in 2006 at age 16, then took 500m gold in 2010 and 2014. She also lowered the world record four times in 2013, bringing it to 36.36 seconds.

A right knee injury and the rise of Japan’s Nao Kodaira¬†made Lee an underdog in PyeongChang. Indeed, Kodaira won in an Olympic and sea-level record 36.94 seconds, holding off Lee by .39.

“Actually, I felt pressure a bit to defend my title again,” Lee said after the race, according to Yonhap News Agency. “In the past, I was worried about falling from the top. But this time, she is the top dog, not me.

“Due to the knee injury, I had lost my sense of speed. It took a year and half to regain it. Finally, it’s over.”

A memorable moment occurred after when Kodaira put her arm around a tearful Lee, both skaters carrying the flags of their historically rival nations together in a show of unity.

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