Almaty, Kazakhstan

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Republic of Korea’s men started their Short Track World Cup campaign in Almaty strongly, winning four of Saturday’s six medals including a clean sweep in the 1500m final. 

Lim Hyojun (KOR), who won gold in the 1500m at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, made it back to the top of the podium in the Halyk Arena, flanked by teammates Kim Gun Woo (KOR) and Hwang Dae Heon (KOR), who came second and third respectively in a photo-finish.

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Lim Hyojun leads Kim Gun Woo and Hwang Dae Heon to their clean sweep in the 1500m 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“This is my first gold medal after the Olympic Games and it means a lot to me,” said Lim, who won in two minutes 19.167 seconds.

“Now I think that all my competitions will get better.”

The trio stayed close to each other throughout the final, as Liu Shaolin Sandor (HUN) and Samuel Girard (CAN) took turns at the front, securing the three top spots in the last four of the 14 laps.

“We talked about this before the race and all teammates came together to do this,” Lim said.

“I think that the other teammates thought that I would get the gold medal, so they are OK with this.”

Steven Dubois (CAN), who finished fourth, never managed to break the Rep. Korean dominance.

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Gold medalist Lim Hyojun is flanked by Rep. Korean teammates Kim Gun Woo and Hwang Dae Heon 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“They were good, they made the right decisions and were top three in the last four laps,” he said. “I tried to follow them in the outside pass in the end and then one Korean checked me. They went fast and raced perfectly.

“It felt like they were racing their own race, for sure, but they were protecting super well. They knew which skaters were in front of them and behind them, they know how to skate with each other. I wouldn’t say that they were team-skating but they’re so good with each other that it’s really hard to move them.”

World overall No.4 Liu led the final after nine laps but finished last. This inspired his younger brother Liu Shaoang (HUN) to restore the family honour in the 1000m final, winning the gold medal half a skate ahead of Sjinkie Knegt (NED). Lee June Seo (KOR) took the bronze medal.

“Before the race I saw my brother’s race and I saw that he didn’t get a medal, he didn’t have the chance, so I thought, ’It’s all on me’,” Liu Shaoang said.

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Liu Shaoang (HUN) wins the 1000m in Almaty 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“I always fight for both of us and for the country. We need the medals.”

His victory maintains a family dominance of the distance. Out of three 1000m competitions this World Cup season, 20-year-old Shaoang has won two and 23-year-old Shaolin Sandor has won one. It was the third top position for Shaoang, who now leads the men’s overall ranking.

The 20-year-old stayed in front of the pack for most of the race, feeling how two-time Olympic medallist Knegt came closer and closer.

“Sjinkie is a pretty good finished so when you skate in front of him you know he’s going to come but this time I was faster,” Liu said.

“The 1000m are only nine laps so you have to be in the front the whole time, so you have to control who’s behind you. In one-to-one I don’t think I’ve ever beaten Sjinkie before but it was super exciting, I really enjoyed the race.”

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Lee June Seo (KOR), Liu Shaoang (HUN) and Sjinkie Knegt (NED) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Just 0.02 seconds behind Lim’s winning time of one minute 27.418 seconds, Knegt feels that he is getting closer to finding his shape again.

“I’m pretty happy about this and I came pretty close on the finishing line. Of course it wasn’t enough but I’m happy with how the race went,” he said.

“I just didn’t train a lot this summer. After 12 years of competing on a high level you need it (a break). I saw my family and had a great time with my two kids. One of my big hobbies is car racing so I did some of that too.”

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Sjinkie Knegt (NED) took the silver medal in the 1000m 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Now he aims to peak at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dordrecht, Netherlands, in a month’s time.

“It’s getting better and better, but it’s not great yet and I’m training hard to be where I have to be. I’m not really good yet, but I hope that for the Europeans in my home country I will be there again.”

The men’s short track action in Kazakhstan continues on Sunday with the 500m and the 5000m relays.

For full results click here

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