After putting on a dazzling display in Friday’s opening ceremony, the host nation of South Korea was treated to another night of fireworks thanks to 21-year-old short track skater Lim Hyo-jun.
Lim set an Olympic record with a time of 2:10.485 in the men’s 1500m short track final, edging the Netherlands’ Sjilkie Knegt by just .07 seconds to win the first gold medal of PyeongChang 2018 for South Korea. The mark beat the previous Olympic record, set by compatriot Lee Sung-ju in Salt Lake City in 2010, by nearly half a second.
Olympic Athlete from Russia Semen Elistratov finished third to give that delegation its first medal of the Games, while defending Olympic champion Charles Hamelin of Canada didn’t place due to a penalty in the final race.
Koreans hit the front
For the first half of the race, it appeared that Lim’s teammate, Hwang Daeheon, might also be headed to the medal stand, as both Koreans briefly took turns at the front of the pack. Given Hwang’s status as a favourite heading into the race, that seemed natural.
Lim fell back for a bit behind Knegt and then reemerged as the leader with just over two laps to go just as Hwang fell on a turn after getting tangled up with Hamelin. Lim’s ability to fend off a furious chase from the world record holder Knegt proved to be the difference in him winning gold.
Lim’s path to the podium hasn’t been an easy one. His victories over Park Se-Yeong and Lee Jung-su – the double gold medallist whose Olympic record he just eclipsed – in South Korea’s Olympic trials were somewhat unexpected, especially since he has struggled to stay healthy since starting the sport as a teenager. Lim missed a year of competition after breaking his leg as a teenager and another six months with an ankle injury a few years later, enduring seven total surgeries on his way to PyeongChang.
Lim’s first-place finish over Hwang and Knegt at the ISU World Cup event in Budapest last October may have given some indication that he was ready for this level of success, but there certainly hasn’t been a well-established record of dominance in the sport. Given his young age, that could certainly be changing after Saturday’s race.
Lim will be in action again Tuesday with his South Korean teammates in the first heat of the men’s 5000m short track relay. Barring any surprise disqualifications or falls – always a possibility in the wild world of short track – the South Korean team should be among the favorites to medal in the finals of that event on February 22.
Regardless of how South Korean speed skaters fare during the rest of the Games, the country’s dominance in the sport is well-established. Lim’s win now gives the nation ten Olympic speed skating medals since 1992.