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At the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, a new force is emerging in speed skating. “We are already number one in the world at junior level, I believe,” said Korea’s Park Ji Woo after seizing the gold medal in the ladies’ 1500m with a time of 2 minutes, 3.53 seconds at the Hamar Olympic Hall Viking Ship.
“Every Korean skate athlete seems to be getting a gold, so I desperately wanted one too. We can become one of the strongest nations at senior level. I was more worried about my Chinese competitor than the girls from Holland.”
Her compatriot Kim Min Seok (1:51:35) reinforced the point by topping the podium in the men’s 1500m event. The Dutch, however, are attempting to remain unruffled. Their skaters finished 8th and 10th in the ladies’ event and 3rd in the men’s, but Holland’s chef de mission, retired speed skater Carl Verheijen, does not see Lillehammer as an endgame.
Elisa Dul of the Netherlands competes in the ladies' 1500m speed skating final at Hamar Olympic Hall Viking Ship. Photo: YIS / IOC Thomas Lovelock
“In Holland we develop speed skaters very slowly,” he said. “These juniors will only get really specialist training over the next couple of years. I myself didn’t go fully into speed skating until I was 16. They will get the best coaching. Our development curve is behind what Korea is doing. But the Koreans are technically fantastic. I do see them becoming a big rival.”
With such a culture of winning in the Netherlands, however, their racers did seem devastated not to shine. “I was really hoping to make the podium,” said Elisa Dul. “My ambition is to become a full Olympian and try to become the next Ireen Wust, so the pressure is on for us young skaters to perform.” The next couple of years will reveal whether the power balance truly is shifting.
China’s Han Mei took silver in the ladies’ event (2:04:48), with Italy’s Noemi Bonazza third (2:05:49). Daichi Horikawa of Japan (1:52:96) won silver in the men’s, with Dutchman Dan Baks finishing third (1:53:29).
Written by YIS / IOC NICK MOORE, with Kim Joo-Hyun and IOC Young Reporter Ricardo Chambers
Nick Moore is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. A sports and music journalist with 20 years of experience, he covered the London 2012 Olympic Games and the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Based in the UK, he has written for numerous titles including FourFourTwo, The Independent, Q and The Times. Photo: Jon Buckle