Speed skater Lee Sang-hwa moved the nation as she was seen shedding tears after winning the gold medal in the women's 500 m on Tuesday at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
"I was just overcome with emotion after finishing the race and seeing the results," Lee said. "I was overwhelmed when I thought about what I had done to get to this point."
Her medal, which was Korea's first gold at Sochi, was even more significant as she had to push herself even harder in the wake of a knee injury.
Lee also became the first Korean to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the sport.
"I've had knee problems for some time. If I overdo it, my knees become filled with fluid and start to hurt," she said, adding that she had received treatment and injections on her knees while practicing for the competition.
Lee, who won a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games despite entering the 500 m as an underdog, said she rarely takes a day off from practice because she did not want to be remembered as a one-off medal winner.
She also admitted to battling psychological demons as a result of all the pressure and fear in the wake of Vancouver while shouldering the weight of a nation’s high expectations.
"It was a tremendous challenge to try and win back-to-back Olympic gold medals," Lee said, especially given the four-year interval at which athletes must attempt to stay in world-class form.
"It was really scary living under all that constant tension. But I feel great since I was able to overcome it."
She set four world records last year alone and rose to the top of her sport during the 2013-14 season.
"I believed in myself and constantly reminded myself that this was not a big deal," she said. Lee, who is set to compete in the 1,000-m race on Thursday afternoon, said, "I want to enjoy the experience and just soak up the festive atmosphere."