Going in unbeaten
11 February, 2014
Lee Sang-hwa went into Sochi 2014 as one of the hottest favourites of the Olympic Winter Games.
The Republic of Korea speed skater hadn’t been beaten in a 500m World Cup race all season, winning seven times.
Lee was the reigning Olympic champion, having become the first person from her country to win a long track speed skating gold. And in November, she had broken the world record no less than three times, first in Calgary, then twice more in Salt Lake City.
In fact her performances were so consistently excellent that she beat figure skater Yuna Kim, the nation’s sweetheart, to the 2013 athlete of the year award in South Korea.
Expectation can sometimes be a burden though. Lee entered the Games with a niggling knee injury and Olga Fatkulina, buoyed on by the home crowd, seemed to be coming into top form at just the right time.
Like Usain Bolt… on Ice
Lee, who had made her international debut at the age of 14 (with a win, of course), soon put any lingering doubts to bed though, leading after the first run.
It was the second run that really cemented her status as one of the outstanding athletes of the Games though.
“I didn’t know I could do it. My left knee was hurting and the other competitors had pretty good results.”
She broke the Olympic record with a time of 37.28 seconds, giving an overall time of 74.70, leaving her rivals floundering.
Fatkulina, who took silver, could do little other than applaud. “Right now, she is almost Usain Bolt,” she said, fittingly.
With typical modesty, Lee said: “I didn’t know I could do it. My left knee was hurting and the other competitors had pretty good results.”
She will be back in front of her home crowd in PyeongChang in 2018, bidding for an historic hat-trick of golds.