Retiring Speed Skater Lee Sang-hwa Recalls Ups and Downs of Career

  • By Chang Min-seok

    May 17, 2019 10:34

    Lee Sang-hwa, a two-time Olympic champion and silver medalist in women's 500-m speed skating and the current world record holder, wrapped up her illustrious career on Thursday.

    "This will be the last time I introduce myself as a speed skater," said a tearful Lee, who was overwhelmed with emotion and had to pause to wipe away her tears.

    "It has made me happy to be with all the Korean fans who have supported me. I will never forget it, and live the rest of my life with gratitude," she said.

    "When I was first chosen to represent Korea some 17 years ago... I set myself three goals -- to win the world championship, to grab a gold medal at the Olympics and to set the world record. I achieved them all," she said. "I wanted to continue towards my next goals, but my knees failed me. I decided that it would be difficult for me to stay in top form, so I made up my mind to retire."

    Lee Sang-hwa sheds tears at a press event in Seoul on Thursday. /Yonhap

    Lee won gold medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Her world record of 36.36 seconds in the 500-m race at the World Cup event in Salt Lake City in 2013 still stands today.

    However, it was an uphill struggle even until the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, as she was marred with injuries and rehabilitation.

    "There wasn't a single night when I had a comfortable sleep for those four years. My knees were of course a problem, but there was so much pressure to win at home," Lee recalled. She managed to win a silver medal behind her close friend Nao Kodaira of Japan. While she was unable to win a gold medal at three consecutive Olympics, she became the first Asian speed skater to win medals at three consecutive Olympics.

    Regarding her immediate plans, she said she wants to relax. "Throughout my career, I exercised for 10 hours a day almost every day. Now, I want to enjoy a leisurely life without having to compete with anyone."

    Lee does not have concrete plans yet for her future. But she is hoping to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as a commentator or a coach.

    "I want to be remembered as an athlete who never gave up, and made what seemed impossible possible. I want to give myself a pat on the back for that, too," she added.

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