February 24, 2014 11:22
Team Korea earned half as many gold medals at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics as it did at each of the previous Games to slip outside the top 10 in the medal table and raise concerns that it could underperform as host in 2018 when the Olympics come to Pyeongchang.
Korean athletes collected eight medals -- three gold, three silver and two bronze -- at the recently ended 2014 Winter Olympics to finish 13th in the overall medal table. This compares unfavorably to its trophy haul of 14 medals (6,6,2) in Vancouver four years ago and 11 (6,3,2) at Turin 2006.
Korea owes much of its success at the Games to its short track skaters, who are responsible for 21 of its 26 gold medals to date. However, the nation's dominance in this sport was eclipsed by China in Vancouver and by host Russia in Sochi.
The men's team was regarded as the weakest ever this year and failed to even pocket a single medal. This was compounded by the success of Korea-born Viktor An, who took up Russian citizenship in 2011 and grabbed three gold medals for Russia in Sochi. He previously earned the same number of golds for Korea in Turin, but became embroiled in an ugly national scandal involving factional divisions within the Korean short track skating community and suffered injuries, which eventually caused him to seek Russian citizenship.
Meanwhile, figure skating champion Kim Yu-na is retiring from competitive skating after settling for silver in Sochi when most expected her to successfully defend her Olympic crown. As she has no de facto understudy, the sport may well slip back into the shadows in Korea.
It is also uncertain whether Lee Sang-hwa, who successfully defended her Olympic title in the women's 500-m speed skating, will continue her competitive career through to 2018.
For both women, their rise to the pinnacle of their respective sports is incredible considering the training environment in Korea. There is not a single ice rink exclusively for figure-skating use, and there is only one indoor rink -- at the Taeneung Training Center in Seoul -- large enough to host international competitions. Sports authorities agree that better and more facilities will be needed to discover new talents and let them train in comfort.
Although the future does not seem overly rosy, it is too early to be pessimistic. In a promising sign of things to come, Choi Jae-woo became the first Korean to advance to the final of the freestyle skiing moguls in Sochi. Moreover, Korea made giant strides in the skeleton, luge and bobsleigh, while its women's curling team registered three victories on their Olympic debut.
Korea's sports authorities must now work hard to tap all this potential to ensure its athletes blossom in Pyeongchang.
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