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S. Korea shines at Winter Asiad

Lee Seung-hoon, Kwak Min-jeong highlight strong weekend in Kazakhstan

Korea got the Lunar New Year off to a good start by establishing itself as a winter sports powerhouse at the Winter Asian Games, which ended Sunday in Kazakhstan.

As was expected, the host Kazakhstan dominated the competition with a haul of 70 medals, including 32 gold medals, to secure the No. 1 title in the medal table.

But Korea also enjoyed success at the winter extravaganza. On Sunday, Korea won its 13th gold medal in the women’s team pursuit in speed skating, surpassing its previous record of 11 gold medals in 1999.

Speed skater Lee Seung-hoon competes in the men’s 10,000-meter race. (Yonhap News)
Speed skater Lee Seung-hoon competes in the men’s 10,000-meter race. (Yonhap News)
However, it failed to win the gold in the men’s team pursuit after finishing second behind its arch-rival Japan with a margin of just 0.03 seconds. Japan secured second place in the Games with 54 medals including 13 golds and 24 silvers.

But overall, it was a better-than-expected result for Korea as its initial goal was winning 10 gold medals to secure a third-place finish.

Speed skater Lee Seung-hoon was one of the main sources of Korea’s success. The Vancouver Olympic gold medalist once again showed his dominance in long-distance speed skating by winning the men’s 10,000 meters title with a new Asian record on Saturday.

He also won the 5,000 meters and mass-start titles earlier last week to become the first Korean triple gold medalist in speed skating.

One of the highlights of this year’s competition was that Korea found new sources of success, such as alpine skiing and cross country.

Alpine skier Jung Dong-hyun won the gold medal in men’s super combined event. (Yonhap News)
Alpine skier Jung Dong-hyun won the gold medal in men’s super combined event. (Yonhap News)
For a long time, Korean had been dominant in short-track speed skating, but failed to make an impact on the rest of events. But last year in Vancouver, Korea saw a change as rising young stars including Lee, Mo Tae-bum and Lee Sang-hwa won gold medals in speed skating for the first time outside of the short-track events.

And this year, Korea finally established itself as a leading winter sport country by claiming four gold medals in ski events, including three gold medals in alpine skiing and a gold medal in cross country.

Kim Sun-joo won the women’s Super-G race last Tuesday to become the first Korean female skier to win a gold medal at the Asian Games. She also won the downhill title earlier. And Lee Chae-won grabbed the country’s first gold medal in cross-country skiing by clocking 36 minutes and 34.6 seconds.

Alpine skier Jung Dong-hyun won the gold medal in the men’s supper combined event on Friday. It was Korea’s first gold medal in men’s alpine skiing since 1999.

Kwak Min-jung won the bronze medal in women’s figure skating. (Yonhap News)
Kwak Min-jung won the bronze medal in women’s figure skating. (Yonhap News)
Teenager Kwak Min-jeong also earned a much-anticipated women’s figure skating medal as she claimed the bronze medal, showing promise for her 2010 London campaign. The country also garnered four gold medals from individual and team events in short-track speed skating.

Four yeas ago, in Changchun, China, Korea came third with nine gold medals behind China and Japan. This year, Korea sent 106 athletes in five disciplines, vowing to accomplish a back-to-back third-place finish. 

-- Medal table
 
1. Kazakhstan: 32 golds, 21 silvers, 17 bronzes
2. Japan: 13 golds, 24 silvers, 17 bronzes
3. South Korea: 13 golds, 12 silvers, 13 bronzes
4. China: 11 golds, 10 silvers, 14 bronzes
5. Mongolia: one silver, four bronzes
6. Iran: one silver, two bronzes
7. North Korea: one bronze
    Kirgizstan: one bronze

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)
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