Shim Suk-Hee, Korean short track queen
Winner of three medals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012, short track specialist Shim Suk-Hee has since risen to the top of her sport, and now has her sights set on the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, where she will compete on home soil.
Despite having not yet turned 19, short track speed skater Shim Suk-Hee (KOR) has already built up an outstanding list of Olympic and global honours. And she is the first to admit that the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012 were the point of departure for this remarkable and ongoing upward trajectory.
After being persuaded to try speed skating for fun at the age of six, the Gangneung native would experience her first major international competition in 2011, when, aged 14, she appeared at the World Junior Championships. The following year, on the Olympiahalle rink in Innsbruck, she achieved eye-opening victories in the two short track events on the programme of the inaugural winter YOG. After two gold medals in the individual 500m and 1,000m, at the culmination of which she burst into tears from the emotion of seeing her compatriot Hyun Park fall near the end of the race, she picked up a bronze in the 3,000m mixed relay with a team made up of athletes representing different National Olympic Committees.
Using the YOG as a launchpad, Shim Suk-Hee made waves at the 2012 World Juniors in Melbourne (AUS), winning all three of the races in which she was involved (500m, 1,000m and 1,500m), twice beating the 1,000m world record for her age category, and finishing top overall.
The 15-year-old Korean athlete’s debut season in the ISU Short Track Speed Skating World Cup was no less striking, as she crossed the line in first place in six successive 1,500m races, in Calgary (CAN), Montreal (CAN), Nagoya (JPN), Shanghai (CHN), Sochi (RUS) and Dresden (GER), remaining unbeaten at that distance, and in three 1,000m races, to top the overall 2012-13 standings. On March 2013 in Debrecen (HUN), she landed her first ISU World Championship title in the 3,000m, while finishing second in the 1,500m and third overall.
Three podium berths at Sochi 2014
She subsequently won a second World Cup crown, dominating the 1,000m and 1,500m once again. Having approached Sochi 2014 with high hopes, she got off to a poor start, failing to advance past the 500m quarter-finals in the Iceberg Skating Palace, but she bounced back on 15 February to take silver in the 1,500m, losing out to China’s Zhou Yang despite leading for a large portion of the race.
Three days later, the precocious athlete finally got her hands on a gold medal, skating a superb anchor leg to overtake Li Jianrou (CHN) in the final seconds of an exciting 3,000m final in which the Koreans and Chinese exchanged the lead no fewer than five times in the final eight laps. “I felt so incredible during the last lap – I knew I was fast enough and in the right position to go by Li. And what a feeling it was when I did it!” she said after the race. A few days later, she secured her third podium appearance in Sochi by claiming a bronze medal in a 1,000m competition won by her fellow Korean, Park Seung-Hi.
Shim Suk-Hee later changed the last four digits of her mobile telephone number to “2018”, signalling her desire to make a splash at the next Winter Games, when the short track competition will take place in her home town of Gangneung.
In the wake of the Games, she exhibited tremendous form at the 2014 World Championships in Montreal, bagging gold medals in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 3,000m, securing her first overall title and earning the nickname “Queen of the Short Track”. In 2016, she has continued to put in commanding performances in the 1,500m and 3,000m relay in particular, living up to the mantra she is known for on the circuit: “Never give up”.