When she outstripped the German Jenny Wolf by 5/100 of a second over 500m at Vancouver 2010, Lee Sang-Hwa became the first Korean to win Olympic gold in long track speed skating.
Since making her international debut at the age of 14, the Seoul-born skater has steadily worked her way through the gears. She decided to concentrate on short distance skating, enjoying consid-erable success at junior level before making her Olympic debut in Turin in 2006, where she hinted at her potential by finishing fifth in the 500m.
Her Olympic gold in Vancouver represented her first major success and she went on to be crowned world champion three times, first in the sprint in 2010 in Obihiro (JPN), then in her favourite distance two years later in Heerenveen (NED) and most recently in March 2013 at Sochi’s Adler Arena.
©IOC / Kishimoto
“I’m not firing on all cylinders yet”
"I set my heart on winning a medal in Vancouver and felt under a lot of pressure when trying to achieve my goal. Today, I can handle pressure much more easily,” reflects the Korean. “What’s more, I’ll be more relaxed this time as I’ve already won a title. If I’m in the right frame of mind, I should do well in Sochi.”
That is understating the case. The Korean is currently in the form of her life, and looks to be peak-ing at just the right time for the Games.
In November and December, she won all seven 500m races that took place in the four stages of the ISU World Cup (Calgary, Salt Lake City, Astana and Berlin). What is more, she also improved her own world record three times during this period: 36.74 on 9 November in Calgary, 36.57 on 15 November in Salt Lake City and 36.36 in the same venue the following day.
Despite these magnificent achievements she claims she is “not yet performing at 100%.” and that there was room for improvement. “I still need to work on certain things. I’ve been training hard on and off ice to perform as well as possible at the Olympics.” The mind boggles as to what she will achieve when she is firing on all cylinders.
Voted Korean Athlete of 2013 ahead of figure skater Yuna Kim, the 24-year-old has certainly lost none of her hunger for success: “I want to keep on performing as well as I have been right through to the Sochi Games,” she told her country’s media.
Victory in Sochi would secure her a place in the Republic of Korea’s sporting history and the Olympic record books - only the American Bonnie Blair in 1988, 1992 and 1994 and Catriona Le May Doan, from Canada, in 1998 and 2002 managed to win gold in the 500m in consecutive Games.
© IOC / Kishimoto
However, she will not let such thoughts interfere with her preparations. "When I get to Sochi and start training for the race I want to enjoy the experience as much as possible,” she explains. “I don’t want to think too much about the actual competition itself.” But you can bet your bottom dollar she’ll be psyched up for the event on 11 February at 4.45pm. And it is guaranteed to be some spectacle!