PyeongChang 2018 crowns new local hero Yun Sung-bin
Thousands of fans packed into the Alpensia Sliding Centre to witness history being made as local favourite Yun Sung-bin claimed gold in the men’s skeleton on 16 February.
Any medal for a host nation athlete will always cause excitement, but Yun’s gold represented a huge milestone. It was the Republic of Korea’s first ever Olympic title away from the skating rink (the 27 previous ones have all come in speed skating, short track and figure skating).
His story is a real fairy tale. In 2012, several months after learning that the Republic of Korea would have the honour of hosting the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang in 2018, Yung Sung-bin, then aged 18, decided to take up the skeleton on the advice of one of his university lecturers. That was the start of an incredible adventure which was to end with an Olympic gold medal on 16 February at the Olympic Sliding Centre.
Yun became the first athlete outside Europe or North America to win an Olympic medal in a sliding event, writing himself into the history books on Korea's Lunar New Year holiday.
Over the moon
On what was already a day of celebration in the Korean calendar, as they country marked the Lunar New Year, Yun’s performance on the sliding track had the nation glued to their TV sets.
“He is a new star. He's so good and I have high hopes for him,” said Lee Sun-woo, a 21-year-old student who was rooting for Yun with her friend at the Games sliding centre. I'm very proud to see our South Korean athlete excelling at skeleton.”
Such was the impact of Yun’s victory that the host country’s President Moon Jae-in sent a congratulatory message to Yun via social media, using one of the athlete's nicknames, the "skeleton emperor".
"It became the best Lunar New Year's gift to our people. Yun showed to us that we can be the best in the world if we try and dare to challenge a new field. Thank you skeleton emperor Yun Sung-bin."
A new role model
The Republic of Korea has long been a powerhouse in short-track speed skating, while Yuna Kim won the country's first figure skating gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, spurring more local interest in winter sports.
The sliding sports have never traditionally generated much interest, but that has now changed. With Yun crowned overall World Cup winner a month before his Olympic triumph, it is clear that the home nation now has not just a new sporting icon, but a role model who can help spur others to follow in his tracks.
"I feel good to hear from people cheering me,” said Yun after stepping off the podium. “But I haven't come this far just to get that title. My biggest wish is that this interest and support not fade out after the Olympics but could lead to finding new talents.”