Short track skater Park Seung-hi was not used to getting hounded by autograph-hunters before she emerged as a new Olympic star by winning two gold medals and one bronze at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia last month.
But it seems she is embracing all the attention she is now getting. On Sunday, when the Chosun Ilbo visited Tancheon Ice Rink in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province to meet her, Park was busy signing her name for clusters of fans. She was also more than happy to pose for a photo at the request of a very young fan.
"I'd never been asked to have so many photos taken, or to give so many autographs, before [the Sochi Olympics]," said Park. "When I walk down the street with my older sister and younger brother, many people recognize me nowadays, and it continues to amaze and surprise me."
Park is the second oldest of three siblings who competed at the Olympics in Sochi. The eldest Seung-ju competed in the ladies' 500-m and 1,000-m speed skating competition, while Se-yeong was a member of the Korean men's short track team.
But Seung-hi was the only one to win medals. She won golds in the 1,000-m race and 3,000-m relay, but it was her bronze-medal performance in the 500-m race that earned her the most kudos. This was due to the way in which she braved almost certain defeat to come back and earn her place on the podium.
She was leading the final when Elise Christie of Britain made an overly ambitious move and fell, in the process wiping out Park and Italy's Arianna Fontana. Seung-hi tried to get back on her feet in a hurry but tripped again. She promptly got back in action and dashed to the finish line, but finished last. However, she was subsequently bumped up to third when Christie was disqualified, earning Korea its first medal at this short track skating event since Chun Lee-kyung at Nagano in 1998.
"I cried a lot after the race because I was thinking about all the hard work that I'd put into training," she said. "But I soon realized that there was no reason for me to cry. I didn't fall because of my own mistake, and I was proud to be able to stand on the podium. Christie later came over and apologized, so I gave her a hug."
Seung-hi said she dreams of working in the textile and fashion industry, and plans to enter it after she retires from the sport. This may seem a relatively humble dream for a two-time Olympian with two gold medals and three bronze medals under her belt, but Seung-hi said she is excited about making a fresh start.
"Many athletes say they want to be an IOC member, but I want to open a new chapter of my life in a completely different area," she said.
She won't compete for the national team tryouts this year, but will instead focus on her club duties for Hwaseong City.
She said she is also looking forward to abandoning her strict diet after the World Championships in Canada in the middle of this month, when she will be able to tuck into everything she has been missing, such as samgyeosal (Korean-style bacon), tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake in spicy chili paste) and sundae (blood sausage).
She also intends to take some relaxing trips around the nation to enjoy her favorite delicacies, she added.