S. Korean short tracker approaches 2nd Olympics with single-minded focus

BEIJING– South Korean short track speed skater Hwang Dae-heon is so locked in on his pursuit of an Olympic medal in Beijing that he has lost track of time.

Following the team’s first training session at Capital Indoor Stadium in the Chinese capital Monday, Hwang was asked by reporters if he had any special plans to celebrate Lunar New Year’s Day on Tuesday.

Hwang shot a bewildered looked and asked, “What are you talking about?”
When reminded that Tuesday is the first day of the new year in the lunar calendar, Hwang said, “Oh, I see.”

“I had no idea,” Hwang added. “I’ve lost track of time. I am only counting down to the day of my races here.”

And his first race will be Saturday, the day after the opening ceremony, in the brand new event, the mixed team relay.

Hwang, who won silver in the men’s 500 meters at his Winter Games debut four years ago in PyeongChang, has taken the mantle of the team ace. His 2018 Olympic teammate, the 1,500m champion Lim Hyo-jun, has left South Korea to become a naturalized Chinese citizen. Veteran Kwak Yoon-gy is competing at his third Winter Olympics, but he is no longer the same skater at age 32.

And Hwang, 22, is taking it all in stride.

“Rather than targeting specific events, I want to do well in every race that I enter,” Hwang said. “At the PyeongChang Olympics, everything was so chaotic. Now, I am preparing for the Olympics with a new mindset.”

Hwang could have won more than just that lone silver in 2018. But he fell during the 1,500m final and got knocked out in the quarterfinals in the 1,000m when he went up against two other South Koreans.

Standing between Hwang and the podium will be the host country, China. Already one of the top short track nations, China hired former South Korean national team head coach Kim Sun-tae as its new boss and brought in South Korean-born Russian star Ahn Hyun-soo, who won six Olympic gold medals, as his assistant.

Kim coached Hwang at PyeongChang 2018 but now will be coaching against him. But Hwang downplayed the significance of that dynamic.

“It’s pretty common to see Korean coaches on other national teams,” Hwang said. “I don’t really pay attention to things like that.”

Hwang and nine other members of the South Korean team had a relatively light training session Monday, starting at 10 a.m. They returned to their Olympic village after about an hour.

Lee Young-seok, coach of the women’s team, said his athletes wanted to get a feel for the ice at the Olympic venue.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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