Korea’s men confirmed their total dominance at the 2019 World Short Track Championships as Lim Hyo Jun lifted the overall title by a huge margin then helped his team storm the 5000m relay.
Lim Hyo Jun won both of Sunday's races to clinch the World title for Korea © International Skating Union
Lim’s teammate Hwang Dae Heon was his only realistic challenger at Sofia’s Armeec Arena but he was penalised in the 3000m Superfinal and finished second overall.
“I came to the World Championships for the first time last year and finished fourth, so I am really happy to win this time,” said Lim.
“And it is great that my teammate got second place. On the ice we always try to win, to beat each other, but off it we are friends.”
Lim and Hwang had been virtually inseparable all weekend - in every sense. In Saturday’s 500m Hwang had impeded his teammate on the line, handing Lim the gold. Hwang then won the 1500m, meaning the pair went into Sunday on the same points.
Sunday’s 1000m would thus be crucial. Semen Elistratov from Russia led from the front before the Korean duo simultaneously attacked him on the final bend. It seemed like Hwang would beat his rivals on the inside, but instead Lim came around the outside and grabbed the points. Hwang was second and the Russian came third.
Lim held off the challenge of teammate Hwang Dae Heon, who was penalised in the 3000m Superfinal © International Skating Union
It was left for the Korean duo to scrap out in the Superfinal - and scrap they did. Once again, the speedy Elistratov was the frontrunner. And once again, Hwang impeded his Korean teammate while trying to make a high-speed late pass. Hwang was handed a penalty and Lim sealed first place – along with the overall title – ahead of Elistratov and Keita Watanabe (JPN).
Lim finished on 102 points in the overall standings, with Hwang getting silver with 55 despite two disqualifications and Elistratov taking bronze on 44.
Despite their literal on-ice wrestling, the Korean duo insisted there were no hard feelings and they embraced on the finish line.
“It was a big fight but he is like a younger brother to me,” said Lim. “We have a great relationship, and no matter who wins it makes me happy.”
Hwang added: “I am a little disappointed, but I learned a lot from the penalties. Next time I want to prepare better, and to win. But as a teammate, I am happy for (Lim). We learn from each other. And now we have to go back to Korea and compete for the national selection.”
The dominance of 22-year-old Lim and Hwang, 19, was made all the more extraordinary by the fact they hadn’t even been their nation’s top skaters this season.
Lim won the overall Men's title by 47 points © International Skating Union
In the face of this Korean monopoly, their rivals could only joke.
“They are lucky, and they copy all my moves, so I’m not really happy with that,” quipped Hungary’s Shaolin Sandor Liu.
“But really, they are always so good. They have so many quality skaters, it’s so hard to beat them,” he added.
With a squad so strong and so young, there is no sign of the Korean dominance ending any time soon.