Lee Sang-hwa waves the national flag after winning the women’s 500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Speed skater Lee Sang-hwa was labeled “Usain Bolt of the ice track” on Tuesday as she successfully defended her Olympic title for the women’s 500 meters to earn Korea’s first gold in Sochi.
Lee not only won the gold, but broke the Olympic record while doing so.
The 25-year-old Korean skater displayed a true champion’s class and composure at Adler Arena, maintaining the lead during the entire race.
Lee, who competed in the last and 18th pair, showed promise right from the get-go.
She began the first heat in the outer lane but soon whizzed past Brittany Bowe from the U.S. and finished strong at an impressive 37.42 seconds.
She then went on to claim the gold medal after a stunning performance in her second run of 37.28 seconds, beating the Olympic record set 12 years ago, for a combined 74.70 seconds.
Olga Fatkulina, the runner-up from Russia, recorded a combined time of 75.06 seconds.
After Lee climbed to the throne in Vancouver in 2010 ― finishing 0.05 seconds ahead of the then-runner-up, Germany’s Jenny Wolf ― she dominated the 500-meter discipline with seven consecutive wins prior to the Sochi Games.
Wolf, who finished sixth this time, stated that “Lee Sang-hwa’s technique was perfect.”
Lee had set her first world record in January last year only to break it again three times in November.
“Frankly, I’m not in as good condition as I was when I broke the world record (in November). So when I was skating, I had a bad feeling, but everyone said I was doing well so I trusted them,” Lee was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Her superior results during the World Cup season made her the absolute favorite heading into the Olympics.
The duly delivered gold makes the world record holder the third woman to repeat as Olympic champ in the 500-meter event.
The medalist overcame a number of obstacles including distress in her left knee and the fact that the ice in Sochi is regarded as a bit slow.
“Olympic records have so far been broken on more elevated ice rinks so it’s amazing that Lee was able to set a new record here in Sochi, where the arena is at sea level,” Kevin Crockett, Lee’s Canadian coach, was quoted as saying.
Her achievement in the competition could not have come at a better time. Due to a lack of anticipated medals and unfortunate happenings, the Korean team’s morale was wavering at an all-time low.
Lee’s gold medal places Korea in the top 10 of the medal standings and also makes it the first Asian country to win gold in this year’s Olympics.
“I was under a lot of pressure but I’m very glad that I’ve won. I tried my best to consider this competition as just another race in the World Cup and not the Olympic Games, which helped me concentrate and achieve a great outcome,” Lee told Korean reporters after the race.
“Although I had been upset and disappointed about the recent results of my compatriots, there are many events left and I have faith that everyone will do a great job,” she added.
By Kim Joo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)