Republic of Korea’s short track superstar
In helping the Republic of Korea retain its 3,000m relay gold on her home rink at PyeongChang 2018, Shim Suk-hee took her Olympic medal collection to four. A member of the quartet who won the relay title at Sochi 2014, she made her breakthrough at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 2012 and has since won a string of world titles. With her career still in its infancy, she can expect to collect plenty more medals yet.
A star of the inaugural winter YOG
Shim took up short-track speed skating at the age of six. What started out as a fun way to pass the time soon became something more serious, and by the time she was 14, she was making her international debut at the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships. Her breakthrough came at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games, held in Innsbruck (AUT) in 2012, where she won gold in both the individual events on the programme – the 500m and 1,000m.
Shim produced brilliant performances in the two finals, though the sight of seeing her friend and compatriot Hyun Park fall in the closing stages of the longer of the two races reduced her to tears as she crossed the line. Forming part of a team made up of athletes from different NOCs, she then added bronze in the 3,000m mixed relay.
World junior success
One month later, Shim recorded a clean sweep at the World Junior Championships in Melbourne (AUS), winning the 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m titles and setting two new 1,000m world records for the age group. Having encouraged her to take up the sport, and on realising that she had the talent to reach the very top, Shim’s father decided to give up his job to devote himself entirely to her career. The family subsequently moved to Seoul, to be closer to the training centre where Shim honed her skills.
Mixing it with the seniors
Bursting on to the senior scene in 2012, she continued her meteoric rise in her maiden ISU World Cup season, claiming the overall title at the age of only 15. She went unbeaten in the 1,500m throughout the campaign, winning six straight races in Calgary (CAN), Montreal (CAN), Nagoya (JPN), Shanghai (CHN), Sochi (RUS) and Dresden (GER), while also picking up three wins in the 1,000m. Then, in March 2013, she won her first 3,000m world title in Debrecen (HUN), where she also took silver in the 1,500m and finished third overall.
In a class of her own over 1,000m and 1,500m, Shim tuned up for Sochi 2014 by securing a second consecutive World Cup crown. In then making her Olympic debut at the age of 17, the South Korean teen was knocked out in the quarter-finals of the 500m.
She bounced back to win silver in the 1,500m, a medal that would have been gold had China’s Zhou Yang not overhauled her on the very last lap. Three days later, Shim anchored her country to gold in a thrilling 3,000m relay final in which the South Koreans swapped the lead with China at least five times over the last eight laps. The flying Shim sealed victory with a superb pass around Li Jianrou on the final lap.
“I felt really good going into the last lap,” said Shim. “I felt fast, and I thought I could pass Li. And it was such a thrill when I did.” She then completed her Sochi medal collection by claiming the bronze in the 1,000m, an event won by her compatriot Park Seung-hi.
2018 is the magic number
As a sign of her determination to shine on home ice when the Olympic Winter Games went to PyeongChang, Shim changed the last four digits of her mobile phone number to “2018.” She hit a new peak by winning gold in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 3,000m at the 2014 World Championships in Montreal (CAN), a hat-trick that also earned her the overall title and the nickname “Queen of Short Track.”
Remaining an irresistible force in the 1,500m and the 3,000m relay in the seasons that followed, Shim laid down a marker for PyeongChang by winning both events at the pre-Olympic test event held at the Gangneung Ice Arena in December 2016. Three months later she collected 1,000m and relay gold at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo (JPN).
A gold medallist in the 3,000m at the 2017 World Championships in Rotterdam (NED) and an overall and 1,500m bronze medallist, the 20-year-old Shim is a firm believer in the motto ‘Never give up’, one she attempted to live up to when she stepped out at the Winter Games for the second time.
No luck in the individual events
Things did not go Shim’s way in the individual events at PyeongChang 2018, however. She was eliminated in the first round of the 500m after finishing third in her heat, and then slipped and fell in the first round of the 1,500m final. Though she did make it through to the final of the 1,000m, she collided with her team-mate Choi on the final lap, with both home skaters hitting the ice to leave Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands to collect the gold. Deemed to be responsible for the crash, Shim was handed a penalty.
The captain of the Republic of Korea’s women’s short track team, Shim had said at the start of the Games that she hoped the “unwavering” support of the fans would carry her through to the end. And so they did in the 3,000m relay, an event in which she showed what she was capable of.
When team-mate Lee Yu-bin fell and hit the ice with around 20 laps remaining of their heat, Shim and Choi took charge to lead them into the final, where, in a dramatic battle for gold, the hosts took the line just ahead of a China team that was later disqualified for obstruction.
The gold was the Republic of Korea’s sixth in the event since its inclusion on the Olympic programme in 1992 and gave Shim her second career gold and fourth medal in total. “Whenever I think about how I’ll remember these Games when I’m older, I'll tell myself that I wanted to have fun,” she said. “That will help me get over my earlier disappointments and to look back on these Games with affection.”
A ten-time world champion
Shim was back on top form in the 2018 ISU World Championships, held the following month in Montreal (CAN). As well as winning the 1,000m and the 3,000m relay, she took silver in the 1,500m and the overall behind Choi, giving her a total of 10 World Championship golds and 19 medals, all by the age of only 21. With many more years on the international circuit to look forward to, Shim can expect to add to that impressive tally in the years to come.