Short Track Speed Skating took center stage on Saturday, January 18. True to the nature of the sport, it was filled with speed, action and suspense as athletes had to qualify every step of the way through Heats, Quaterfinals and Semifinals to reach the Final.
Korea largely dominated the event winning 4 Gold medals and 2 Silver. The Netherlands won a Silver medal, while China and Canada both went home with 2 Bronze medals.
It began with the Ladies’ and Men’s 1000m races. In the Ladies’ Final, two made it through crashes. Chanseo Kim (KOR) had been taken out during the quarterfinals by her opponent’s fall. “I felt OK after I fell but I thought there would be no advance [to the next round].” Kim said after getting tied up with Barbara Somogyi (HUN) in the quarterfinals. Florence Brunelle (CAN) experienced that same fate during the Semifinals. However, they were allowed to make it through to the next stages, thanks to the Short Track Speed Skating rules that allow skaters to advance in special circumstances such as those.
Whi Min Seo (KOR) and Chanseo Kim (KOR) at the 1000m race of the Youth Olympic Games 2020©IOC
They joined Kim’s teammate, Whi Min Seo, Petra Rusnavoka from Slovakia and Russia’s Luliia Beresneva on the start line for the big race. As the start gun resonated, the two Koreans rapidly took the lead with Seo in first place, closely followed by Kim in second. “I knew I had the ability to make a fast start and I used that well today,” said Seo. As the top duet distanced themselves from the pack to secure 1st and 2nd place respectively, the other three put up a fight for third place. Rusnavoka was looking as she would be the one to get that last step on the podium at the start of the race, but with 4 laps to go, Brunelle takes over from the outside and finally wins the Youth Olympic Games bronze medal. Considering she almost didn’t make it to the final, Kim said ““I was so lucky to get a silver medal”
The Men’s competing in the Final were China’s Kongchao Li, Jonathan So from USA, Sungwoo Jang from Korea and his compatriot Jeongmin Lee. It was a race in which a blink of an eye could mean missing on the action. China took the lead with Li in first place at the start, but he was quickly overtaken by Korea’s Jang, who was followed by So and Lee at the back. However, Li was not going down without a fight and overtook again to maintain his first place, while So was also making a move on the inside to take second place. Jang overtakes So to come back up in second, while his teammate Lee gets up in third place in front of So. With four laps to go, Jang attacks and manages to overtake Li with his teammate Lee by his side coming up in second place. On the last lap, right before the finish line, Lee tries taking on Jang for first place but has to settle for Silver and Li for bronze.
Sungwoo Jang (KOR) and Jeongmin Lee (KOR) during the 1000m race of the Youth Olympic Games 2020©IOC
The exciting 500m race took place on January 20. In the Ladies division, Whi Min Seo (KOR), Michelle Velzeboer (NED), Chutong Zhang (CHN) and Florence Brunelle (CAN) were the ones to make it to the Final. Seo quickly got ahead. She left the fighting up to the others that were battling for silver and Bronze. “I was worried because there were a lot of strong athletes who made strong starts. But I made a good start and that’s what helped me win.” Said Seo. Velzeboer was in second place and Brunelle overtook Zhang for third. She further attempted to take on Velzeboer but it is Zhang who caught up to both, managing to squeeze into second position ahead of Velzeboer. Velzeboer and Brunelle were left fighting for third place, or so they thought. However, due to too much contact with her rivals, Zhang was further disqualified, handing the silver medal to Velzeboer and bronze to Brunelle.
Michelle Velzeboer (NED), Whi Min Seo (KOR) and Florence Brunelle (CAN) after the 500m race of the Youth Olympic Games 2020©IOC
Although Short Track Speed Skating runs in the family for Velzeboer, whose father competed in Short Track Speed Skating at the Olympic Winter Games 1992, her medal was a complete surprise. “I was expecting maybe a quarterfinal today, but a medal is beyond what I was even hoping for. I’m really happy. The whole Games have been an amazing experience.”
Both Lee Jeongmin and Jang Sungwoo were back in the 500m Finals, this time with Tianyi Zhang from China and Russian Vladimir Balbekov. Zhang had a blistering start. In second was Jang trailed by Balbekov, who tried to come up to take second place but crashed, leaving it open for Lee. Jang attacked to take the lead with Lee right behind, who made the most of passing in the inside to come up in first position. At that point Zhang falls. The two teammates are the only ones left standing. Finally, Lee takes gold to make amends for his Silver in the 1000m race, leaving Jang in second place and Zhang, winning the bronze after getting back up into the race. “We were worried before the start because we are better in the 1000m, so to be first and second again is really good,” Lee said.
Jeongmin Lee (KOR) and Sungwoo Jang (KOR) after the 500m race of the Youth Olympic Games 2020©IOC
The Youth Olympic Games ended in style on January 22, with the exciting Short Track Speed Skating Mixed NOC Team Event. Eight teams were created with four members – two men and two ladies from at least two different NOCs and of different levels, who raced as one.
Skaters are placed in the teams depending on the points earned in the individual 500m and 1000m races. The first 8 Ladies are placed in order, in their respective teams, so number one is in Team A and number two in team B. Those ranked 9 to 16 are placed in reverse numerical order. The Men are placed in the same way, however, the first 8 are in reverse numerical order and the athletes that are 9 – 16 are in the first 8 teams in numerical order. For further details, please refer to Section D.2 of the Qualification System – Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
Team B after the Mixed NOC Relay race of the Youth Olympic Games 2020©IOC
The Final was filled with suspense. Who would win? That was anyone’s guess, as a constant battle was set in motion. Although Team B, who was composed of Chanseo Kim (KOR), Diede van Oorschot (NED), Shogo Miyata (JPN) and Jonathan So (USA), started in the lead as soon as the start gun went off, Team F, with Barbara Somogyi (HUN), Elisa Confortola (ITA), Felix Pigeon (CAN) and Vladimir Balbekov (RUS), and Team A, that featured Oivia Weedon (GBR), Whi Min Seo (KOR), Thomas Nadalini (ITA) and Ethan de Rose (NZL), were right up there and were determined to get the gold as well.
It was only after Barbara Somogyi (HUN) didn’t quite manage the turn after a hard push and crashed that Team F, with her teammates Elisa Confortola (ITA), Felix Pigeon (CAN) and Vladimir Balbekov (RUS), left an opening for Team G. Iuliia Bernesneva (RUS), Hui Chang (TPE), Gabriel Bolet (FRA), Sungwoo Jang (KOR) of Team G were finally getting their chance and made the most of it by attacking Team A for second place. As Team A attempted to take it back, they fell with a swift recovery, but not swift enough to be able to challenge Team G before the finish line.
Team G, Team B and Team A during the Mascot Ceremony of the Mixed NOC Team Relay at the Youth Olympic Games 2020©IOC
For So, Team B Gold Medalist, it was an enriching experience to work with athletes and coaches from other countries. “It’s been really good working with the Korean coaches. It’s a different environment, maybe they are a little bit more strict, but it helps us be more motivated to win. During the race, we tried to stay safe, stay tight.” But for him it is the team work and effort that helped them win. “We worked well as a team. We had one day of practice and we communicated really well to sharpen up our flaws.”
Weedon (GBR) bronze medalist from Team A, was thrilled to be part of Seo’s team.
“I’ve been in awe of her the whole time,” she said. “She is so strong and she has no fear. I’ve learned a lot from her, she tries her best no matter what races she is in. We’re friends on Instagram, so we will stay in touch.” As for Seo, she achieved her goal during the Youth Olympic Games “I really wanted to win the medals,” Seo said leaves the Youth Olympic Games with two golds and a bronze.