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  • Korea Rock Solid in Short Track Speedskating


    (ATR) Korea is king of the mountain hall at the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games.

    Start of an early race (ATR)
    The country swept both short track speed skating gold medals in the 1000 meters Sunday, plus captured the silver in the ladies’ race in the famous cavern hall in Gjøvik.

    With the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games on the horizon, 16-year-old men’s champion Daeheon Hwang told Around the Rings, “I’m going to work hard so I can get to the Olympics in two years.”

    He pumped his fist as he crossed the finish line in 1 minute, 28.022 seconds, edging Wei Ma, 17, of China. Shaoang Liu, 17, of Hungary took the bronze, becoming the first medalist in short track for his country in any type of Olympic Games. Liu set the world junior record in the 500 meters on Jan. 30 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

    In the women’s final, Jiyoo Kim, 16, was first in 1:34.041, followed by teammate Suyoun Lee, 16, in 1:34.118 and Anna Seidel, 17, of Germany.

    Suyoun Lee, Jiyoo Kim and Anna Seidel (ATR)
    The two Koreans giggled when asked about 2018. Both answered through a translator that they are going to strengthen their training to get ready for the Games. Their country has a tradition of dominating the short track rink.

    In the Olympic Games through 2014, Korea has won 42 medals in short track, more than any other country. China is second with 30 and Canada, which did not have any competitors in the 1000, has 28.

    “We train a lot more and harder,” said Lee, “and we also have many earlier Korean skaters who are very good so they gave us a lot of help to get ready for the competition.”

    There were no unusual suspects in the field of skaters, which included 16 competitors from 14 countries in the men’s event and 15 competitors from 12 countries in the women’s.

    Only four athletes kissed the boards on Valentine’s Day, with all of the crashes coming in the quarterfinal round.

    Crown Prince Haakon and his family arrived before the semifinals, followed a few minutes later by IOC President Thomas Bach and his entourage. As they waited for the final, the Crown Prince showed off some moves as the crowd stood and danced to the YOG theme song, “Go Beyond, Create Tomorrow.”

    Novelty Hasn’t Worn Off

    Although Gjøvik hosted the 1995 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, none of the competitors were born at that time, so skating in a cave was a new experience.

    Gjovik cave entrance (ATR)
    “It was so weird in the beginning,” Seidel said, “but when you’re on the ice it feels normal. It’s really cool because it’s more loud and it’s fun. Because the arenas are still here, it feels a bit like déjà vu.”

    Added Lee, “I think it’s really incredible and I thought it’s really nice how they made a skating arena in a cave.”

    Each race began not with a beep or a starter’s gun, but with a soft boom, reminiscent of the dynamite that blasted the arena out of rock prior to the 1994 Olympic Games.

    Gjøvik had a choice to build an ordinary outdoor arena or an underground one. The city already had an existing underground sports hall, which featured a 25-meter swimming pool completed in 1974, so decided to make an even bigger arena next to it.

    The hall hosted 16 ice hockey matches in 1994, while short track speed skating was held in nearby Hamar at the amphitheater.

    The “Fjellhall” has many reminders of the 1994 Lillehammer Games, particularly many ice hockey pictograms and the crystal pattern as a backdrop. Two rock climbing walls flank the scoreboard in the cavern, which is 91 meters high, 61 meters wide and 24 meters high.

    Although the 5,500-set cavern was not full, the audience was enthusiastic. They arrived to a drumbeat and a troupe featuring mimes, clowns, a performer on stilts and a fire-breather outside the entrance. Spectators did “the wave” during the men’s D final, which featured a Norwegian.

    Written by Karen Rosen in Gjøvik.

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