Speed skater Lee Sang-hwa may wrap up the ISU World Cup series early. Lee has competed in four events this season, and has won two silver and one bronze medals. With just two more events remaining, which she may skip due to pain in her right leg, her chances of winning a gold medal this season are slim.
Lee, who is in her late twenties, is experiencing a drop in energy levels, which would be detrimental to her overall form. Lee will turn 29 when the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang take place.
Lee has reigned over the sport for over 10 years since the mid-2000s. She set the new world record of 36.36 seconds in the women's 500 m in November 2013, which still stands today, and won a gold medal in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi.
Lee hopes to retire after winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Bonnie Blair of the U.S. is the only woman athlete to do so in women's 500 m, in 1988, 1992, and 1996.
Lee has been suffering from chronic knee pain. Doctors advised her to get an operation, but she has preserved without surgery for fear that it may end her career as a skater. Instead, she focuses on strengthening muscles around the knee as that alleviates her symptoms.
A staffer from her management agency said, "Many of her fans are concerned about her condition due to her recent slump, but we want to take a long-term perspective, and try not to take too much risk ahead of the Olympics in Pyeonchang."
Lee is currently getting treatment for her leg. She will primarily focus on recovery and decide later whether to take part in the remaining World Cup events.