S. Korea grabs maximum Olympic quotas in 7 of 9 events

November 29, 2021

Amid persistent concerns about underperformance, South Korea has secured maximum Olympic quota places in seven of nine events in short track speed skating.

The fourth and final International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup of the season concluded in the Dutch city of Dordrecht on Sunday (local time), or early Monday in Seoul, with South Korea emerging with three gold and one bronze.

Based on results across the four World Cup competitions, countries can send up to three skaters per individual event and one team per relay to the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will kick off next February.

There were 32 quota places up for grabs in the men’s and women’s 500m and 1,000m, and 36 places in the men’s and women’s 1,500m. For the women’s 3,000m relay and the men’s 5,000m relay, a maximum of eight countries each made the Olympics. Twelve nations will compete in the 2,000m mixed team relay in Beijing.

South Korea has safely locked down spots in the men’s and women’s 1,000m and 1,500, plus all three relay events.

However, the Korea Skating Union (KSU) said Monday it is awaiting the final word from the ISU on the quotas for the men’s and women’s 500m.

South Korea only placed two skaters inside the top 32 in the men’s 500m, while it had four among the top 32 in the women’s 500m.

Lee Yu-bin finished first overall in the women’s 1,500m, on the strength of two victories — in the first leg in China last month and then in the final leg in the Netherlands on Saturday. A pair of former Olympic champions, Choi Min-jeong and Kim A-lang, ranked seventh and eighth overall, respectively.

Choi, who has been battling ankle and knee injuries for over a month, was the top South Korean in the 1,000m at third place. She won the 1,000m final in Dordrecht on Sunday for her only gold medal of this World Cup season. Kim Ji-yoo ended in ninth place despite missing the final World Cup with a broken ankle, and Lee Yu-bin finished in 12th.

Choi also led all South Korean skaters in the 500m, where she placed eighth. She was followed by Kim Ji-yoo at 20th and Seo Whi-min at 30th.

In the women’s 3,000m relay, South Korea finished second overall behind the Netherlands.

The Dutch team won three out of four World Cup titles in the 3,000m relay, while South Korea, the two-time defending Olympic champion, only managed one silver and one bronze. South Korea got disqualified in the final relay event Sunday after crossing the finish line third.

No South Korean man topped the World Cup standings. Hwang Dae-heon came closest, as he finished second overall in the 1,000m despite sitting out the fourth World Cup with a back injury. Kim Dong-wook (19th) and Kwak Yoon-gy (22nd) were the two others in position to secure Olympic quotas.

Park Jang-hyuk (third), Hwang (11th) and Kwak (20th) finished inside the top 36 in the 1,500m. The men’s 5,000m relay team ranked second overall after winning the final race Sunday, thanks to Kwak’s thrilling overtaking move on the inside of the final turn.

In the men’s 500m, Hwang (fifth) and Kwak (13th) were the only two South Koreans among the top 32, while Park ended in 34th place.

The country’s 2,000m mixed relay team finished sixth overall, with only one bronze to show for from four World Cups. The mixed relay event will make its Olympic debut in Beijing.

South Korea has been the most successful country in Olympic short track, with 24 gold medals and 48 medals overall since the sport became a medal event in 1992.

Now that the World Cup season is over, countries will determine which skaters will take the ice in Beijing. South Korea already completed its Olympic trials in May, with the top three from the men’s and women’s races eligible for all events in Beijing, and the fourth- and fifth-place qualifiers set to skate only in the relays.

One major question mark remains for the women’s team. The top qualifier, two-time Olympic champion Shim Suk-hee, is under investigation over suspicions that she intentionally tripped up teammate Choi Min-jeong out of spite during the 1,000m final at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The allegations stem from text exchanges between Shim and a former national team coach that surfaced in October. Shim was left off the national team for the entire World Cup season, and it’s not yet clear whether Shim will be reinstated for the Olympics.