Taking the short track to success
A multiple world champion and triple Olympic medallist, Republic of Korea short-track speed skater Shim Sukhee is eyeing further success in front of her home fans at PyeongChang 2018, a date that is so special to her that it makes up the last four digits of her cell phone number.
A star of the inaugural Winter YOGShim Sukhee 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 1000m.
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 successOne month later, Shim recorded a clean sweep at the World Junior Championships in Melbourne (AUS), winning the 500m, 1,000m and 1500m 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.
Storming the senior sceneBursting 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, Montreal, Nagoya, Shanghai, Sochi and Dresden, 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.
Sochi swagIn 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 Seunghi.
2018 is the magic numberAs a sign of her determination to shine on home ice when the Olympic Winter Games come to PyeongChang, Shim changed the last four digits of her mobile phone number to “2018”. She then 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).
If Shim is to shine at PyeongChang 2018, she will have to hold off challenges from team-mate Choi Minjeong, who won the overall world title in 2015 and 2016, and Great Britain’s Elise Christie, who relieved Choi of her crown in Rotterdam (NED) in March 2017. A gold medallist in the 3,000m at those World Championships in the Netherlands and third overall, the 20-year-old Shim is a firm believer in the motto “Never Give Up”, one she will attempt to live up to when she steps out at the Winter Games for the second time.