Mo Tae-bum Wins Korea's 1st Olympic Gold in Speed Skating

The Korean speed skating team finally quenched its long thirst for an Olympic gold medal with two races in the men's 500-m by Mo Tae-bum that together lasted just under one minute and 10 seconds.

Korea first took part in the speed skating event at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Bavaria, Germany, but Korean skaters were consistently far from the podium until Kim Yoon-man won the nation's first Winter Olympics medal with a second-place finish in the men's 1,000-m in Albertville, France, in 1992.

At the Turin Olympics in 2006, Korean skaters made a strong showing -- Lee Kang-seok won a bronze in the men's 500-m, Lee Kyou-hyuk finished fourth in the men's 1,000-m, and Lee Sang-hwa fifth in the women's 500-m.

Four years later, the nation's speed skaters are delivering high results in Vancouver. On Sunday, Lee Seung-hoon grabbed the silver in the men's 5,000-m, the first Olympic medal ever by an Asian in long-track speed skating. On Monday, Mo finally gave the nation its first ever Olympic gold in the sport.

Mo Tae-bum carries the Korean flag after winning the gold medal in the mens 500-m speed skating at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Tuesday morning (Korea time). /Newsis Mo Tae-bum carries the Korean flag after winning the gold medal in the men's 500-m speed skating at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Tuesday morning (Korea time). /Newsis

Few expected Mo to win the gold, even himself. "I only imagined and dreamt about it," the 21-year-old skater said. "I just tried to think of the 500-m as part of my warm-up ahead of my main event, the 1,000-m. I was lucky. It's my birthday today, and I got a huge, huge present for myself."

Mo came out of virtual obscurity, not only in Vancouver but also here at home. When the Korean Olympic team held a press conference at the Taeneung Training Center, the spotlight went only to Lee Kyou-hyuk, Lee Kang-seok and Lee Sang-hwa. "Reporters didn't ask me anything. I was a bit depressed, but the indifference really stimulated me. There was no pressure, so I was able to just enjoy the race," he said.

Mo said he did not get flustered by a 90-minute delay between the first and the second races caused by the breakdown of the ice grooming machines. After he finished second in the first race, he "felt confident," he said. Nor was he intimidated by Canadian hero Jeremy Wotherspoon, the world record-holder in the 500-m, with whom he was paired in the second race.

"I thought if I did the first 100 meters quickly, I'd have a chance to medal. I was telling myself, 'Let's get ahead of him in the first 100 meters, and loosen up in the last corner,'" Mo said.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 17, 2010 11:42 KST