Gold Rush: Korean Speed Skaters Triple Up

By Timothy Yoo

With apologies to short track double-gold winner, Lee Jung-Su, the real stars of the South Korean Olympic team after the first week in Vancouver have been the surprising speed skaters of the long oval. With five medals—three of them gold—the Korean speed skaters have raced out of the long shadow cast by their short track counterparts.

Coming into Vancouver, all but two of South Korea’s 31 Winter Olympic medals had come in short track (which became a full Olympic sport in 1992). Given their longstanding domination of the sport, the short track team’s success at these Games—five medals, including two golds—is therefore almost expected. By contrast, the Korean speed skaters’ unprecedented success has come as a pleasant shock to even the most ardent of Korea’s faithful.


That’s not to say Korea lacks a long history in the sport; after all, Korea’s first Winter Olympians were speed skaters. In 1948, Korea competed in the Winter Olympics for the first time as an independent nation by sending three speed skaters—Choi Yong-Jin, Lee Chong-Kook, and Lee Hyo-Chang—to St. Moritz, Switzerland. And in 1992, speed skater Kim Yoon-man won Korea’s first Winter Olympic medal when he took the silver in the Men’s 1000m event in Albertville, France.

Of course, that modest history didn’t exactly set the stage for a coming out party in Canada. But Lee Seung-Hoon got the party started by grabbing a surprising silver in the Men’s 5,000m on the first day of competition. Then, Mo Tae-Bum broke through with Korea’s first non-short track gold by triumphing in the Men’s 500m. Lee Sang Hwa represented for the ladies by duplicating that feat in the Women’s 500m against a superb field. After Mo picked up a second medal (a silver in the Men’s 1,500m), Lee Seung-Hoon put an exclamation point on the Korean team’s effort by setting a new Olympic Record on his way to winning gold in the Men’s 10,000m. Just like that, it now appears the world has a new speed skating superpower.

By the way, Korea’s best result in those 1948 Games? A 19th-place finish in the Men’s 1,500m. You’ve come a long way, baby.