Korea's Kim Gun Woo will be a hot favourite at next month’s World Championships © International Skating Union
World No.1 Kim Gun Woo led the Korean Short Track speed skating team to yet another day of golden glory as the World Cup in Torino, Italy started in the same manner as last weekend’s edition in Dresden, Germany finished.
Kim is one of the most in-form sportsmen on the planet. Since November’s World Cup meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan the 21-year-old has finished second-first-first-first in his four 1500m races and has comfortably wrapped up the long distance World Cup season title. In a sport where skaters are only ever a razor-sharp edge away from a fall, that is an extraordinary record.
“I feel tired but I like that feeling,” Kim said. “I train nine hours per day for this. It feels good. I felt confident on the last lap that I could get to the front and win.”
The skater, who must now be a huge favourite for not only the long-distance gold at next month’s World Championships but also the overall crown, has developed an almost unbeatable tactic. Namely, an ability to sweep round the outside and grab the lead on the final lap, irrespective of what has gone before in the race.
“It’s really hard doing what he does,” said Canada’s Steven Dubois, who picked up 1500m bronze behind Kim and fellow Korean Hong Kyung Hwan. “He is so good at it, just super smooth on the outside. It’s hard to beat, really hard to beat.
Steven Dubois (CAN) is up to second in the 1500m World Cup rankings © International Skating Union
“You always have an idea of where they (the Korean skaters) are. You know one is going to pass outside, they are always there. You do your race but you always have the Koreans in the back of your mind.”
The Canadian has enjoyed a brilliant debut season on the World Cup stage, with his bronze propelling him into second in the 1500m World Cup rankings behind Kim. But even he is unsure how best to repel the Korean’s race plan.
“I guess maybe if you conserve your energy, go before him and try to take the lead and go fast at the end, probably he wouldn’t be able to pass,” Dubois ventured. “But it’s going to take a lot of adapting to beat him.”
Another world-class skater struggling to figure out how to combat the Korean wave is Hungary’s Shaolin Sandor Liu. The 2019 triple European champion secured his first 500m World Cup podium place since the season-opening weekend in Calgary, Canada yet he could do nothing to stop Hwang Dae Heon (KOR) from grabbing gold.
“As you can see I am still trying to find out what is the best tactic to beat him,” the silver medallist laughed. “He (Hwang) is a pretty tough competitor, he has really good skills. It was a good race, hopefully next time I can catch him.”
Hwang Dae Heon (KOR) will have a chance to top the 500m season standings on Sunday © International Skating Union
Liu was once again racing without the reassuring company of his brother, Shaoang Liu, who broke three bones in his hand in Dresden last weekend. The second-place finish saw Shaolin Sandor jump ahead of his absent younger brother in the 500m World Cup standings but that gave the elder sibling little pleasure.
“I was going for him, I was thinking about him. I was a bit sad I didn’t win because I wanted to shout his name at the end,” Shaolin Sandor said.
Korea’s Hwang now has a chance to overtake the absent Wu Dajing of China in the season-long sprint standings if he can win Sunday’s final World Cup 500m. It would cap a wonderful comeback for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games 500m silver medallist, who was outside the top 10 just two months ago.
“I have been focusing on this race all week,” Hwang said. “I had the belief and confidence. I had a very clear plan for this. I think we can win all the races tomorrow too.”
Should he win a second 500m tomorrow and one of his compatriots triumphs in the 1000m (Koreans occupy two of the top three spots in the 1000m World Cup standings) it would mark the second successive World Cup at which Korean men have swept the individual honours.