Short track star’s bid for gold sweep spoiled from the beginning

South Korean short track speed skater Choi Min-jeong’s quest for an unprecedented gold medal sweep at PyeongChang 2018 was spoiled at the start on Tuesday, as she was penalized in the women’s 500-meter final.


Choi appeared to win the silver medal behind Arianna Fontana of Italy, in a photo finish, at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung. Choi clapped and waved to the delighted crowd in celebration of what she believed would be her first Olympic medal, and the South Korean television feed also flashed the sign “Silver Medal.”

But moments later, Choi was disqualified for apparently making contact with Fontana late in the 4 1/2-lap race. Kim Boutin of Canada moved to bronze, while Yara van Kerkhof of the Netherlands got the silver.

This is the first Winter Olympics for the 19-year-old, and the 500m was her first final here.

Choi was trying to accomplish something no one has done in the Olympic history — win all short track gold medals in the 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m and relay (3,000m for women and 5,000m for men).

And there’s no doubting her talent. The two-time world overall champion entered the PyeongChang Olympics ranked world No. 1 in all individual races, and she has also been instrumental in getting South Korea to the top spot in the 3,000m relay.

Some pre-Olympic predictions had Choi winning as many as three gold medals. Choi has been asked several times whether she felt she could pull off the sweep, and the teenager hasn’t exactly deflected those questions. If anything, Choi has exuded quiet confidence and has said she will try her best if there’s a possibility that she could win all four.

The closest anyone has come to a short track gold medal sweep was at the 2006 Torino Games, where Ahn Hyun-soo, then competing for South Korea, won three gold and one bronze in the men’s races.

As Victor An of Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he also won three gold and one bronze medal.

Also back in 2006, South Korean Jin Sun-yu won three women’s short track gold medals. She remains the only female short tracker to win at least three gold medals at a single Olympics.

But there was one thing Jin or any of other decorated South Korean short trackers had never accomplished before: win an Olympic gold in the women’s 500m.

It’s been one of the most puzzling droughts in South Korean sports. Given how dominant the country has been in short track — it leads all nations with 22 gold medals and 44 medals overall — it’s a surprise that there actually is a short track race in which South Korea hasn’t won an Olympic gold.

South Korea has produced two bronze medalists in the women’s 500m — Chun Lee-kyung in 1998 and Park Seung-hi in 2014.

Fighting back tears after the race, Choi said she will forget about Tuesday’s race and move forward.

“I’m confident that I can get over it. I still have three competitions left,” she said. “The 500m wasn’t my main event anyway. I’ll prepare well for the remaining races.”

Choi still has a shot at joining Jin in the triple gold club among female skaters. The 1,500m heats, semifinals and finals are all set for Saturday. South Korea is already in the 3,000m relay final, which will take place next Tuesday. The 1,000m heats, semifinals and finals are on Feb. 22.

Hyun-ju Ock

(Korea Herald)