Speed skater Lee Sang-hwa set a new world record for the women's 500-m race at an ISU World Cup event held at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Canada on Sunday. She clocked 36.80 seconds to stay clear of runner-up Heather Richardson of the U.S.
Lee's time was 0.14 seconds faster than the previous world record held by China's Yu Jing, also set in Calgary in January last year. Lee has won all eight events she has entered this season, improving her chances of defending her Olympic title next year in Sochi, Russia.
This is the first world record by a Korean female speed skater, even though two Korean men have achieved the feat to date -- Lee Kyou-hyuk in the 1,500 m in 2001 and Lee Kang-seok in the 500 m in 2007.
Lee, who competed neck and neck along with Yu Jing and Germany's Jenny Wolf until last season, has established herself as the world's No. 1 skater this season. This is largely thanks to her training, which has brought about changes to her body specifically optimized for the 500-m sprint.
According to the Korea Institute of Sport Science, which measured her before she started the season, Lee's weight dropped from 67 kg in Jan. 2011 to 63.2 kg last July, while the circumference of her thighs increased from 57 cm to 60 cm. This means her thighs are now 10 cm bigger than an average male aged between 20 and 24. As she stripped off the fat, her body became lighter overall, with more explosive power concentrated in her legs due to the extra muscle there giving her a faster start in races.
When she won the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Lee clocked 10.34 seconds in her first 100 m. However, she covered the same opening stretch in just 10.26 seconds.
Han Myung-sub at the Korea Skating Union said, "Lee focused on improving her start with Kevin Overland, the new coach for the Korean national team this season. This coincided with the changes in her body and led to improvement in her records."
Lee will compete in the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships in Salt Lake City on Saturday and Sunday, in which skaters are ranked according to the combined results in 500 m and 1,000 m races.
"I expected the new record to come in Salt Lake City, but it came sooner. I will work on getting a good result at the worlds," she said.