Choi Min-jeong (KOR) wins ahead of Kim Boutin (CAN) Natalia Maliszewska (POL) and Suzanne Schulting (NED) in the final 1000 meters at the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating in Dordrecht (NED) @International Skating Union (ISU)
The Republic of Korea enter the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games as the globe’s leading Short Track Speed Skating powerhouse. No other nation has won as many Olympic golds, Olympic medals or World Championship titles.
Maintaining their position will be more difficult than ever, though, as several other nations have strengthened significantly over recent years.
Leading the charge for Korean glory will be Choi Min Jeong. The 23-year-old remains the most-decorated skater, male or female, on the circuit, with three overall World Championships titles to her name. She peaked at her home Games, PyeongChang 2018, winning gold in both the 1500m and the 3000m Relay to become a national hero.
Gold medallist Choi Minjeong (KOR) poses on the podium for the Short Track Women's 1500m during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang (KOR) @International Skating Union (ISU)
Things haven’t been so straightforward for Choi since that wonderful winter, however. She has lost her overall No.1 ranking to Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands, and has had an imperfect couple of seasons, disrupted by injury as much as the pandemic.
Towards the end of the 2021/22 ISU World Cup Short Track season, however, Choi started to look like her old self again. She defeated Schulting in Dordrecht to win the 1000m gold, racing with her trademark precision and guile. Choi usually peaks at the right time: it would be a surprise if she didn’t do so for Beijing 2022.
Alongside Choi, Lee Yubin has enjoyed an exceptional season. Lee was part of the Relay team that won PyeongChang 2018 gold and this term she has been excellent in the individual events, particularly the 1500m, in which she leads the rankings. A racer brimming with pure power, she will be a definite contender over the longer distances.
Yubin Lee (KOR) reacts in the Women's 1500m final during the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Dordrecht (KOR) @International Skating Union (ISU)
Together, the two leading Korean women will also fancy their chances of retaining their Olympic Relay title – although they’ll have to overcome the world record holders and favorites, the Netherlands, to do so.
In the men’s events, speedster Hwang Dae Heon will be Korea’s great hope. A silver medalist in the 500m at PyeongChang 2018, he is always a contender in that distance and in the 1000m. There is no more physically powerful or dynamic skater on the circuit, but he is difficult to predict.
Daeheon Hwang (KOR) poses on podium after medal ceremony of Men`s 1000m final-race during the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Debrecen (HUN) @International Skating Union (ISU)
Should the right Hwang turn up on the day, however, medals are assured. Just getting to the Games as part of his national squad is tough enough.
“The selection of the Korean national team seems to be as difficult as winning on the world stage,” he said. “We have fierce competition between our skaters, and we have a very high quality of training.”
For Hwang Dae Heon, perhaps the hardest part of the year is already done: he's made it into 🇰🇷's squad for the Olympic season— ISU Speed Skating (@ISU_Speed) October 13, 2021
🗣️ “The selection of the national team seems to be as difficult as winning on the world stage."
Read more ➡ https://t.co/JJC2mhbpR3#ShortTrackSkating pic.twitter.com/5MnEwQeK91
Alongside Hwang, Park Jang Hyuk has also skated neatly during his first year on the senior ISU circuit, especially in the 1500m, while veteran Kwak Yoon-gy – World Champion in 2012 – has been rolling back the years and putting in some extremely good performances, too.
Dongwook Kim, In Wook Park, Yoon-Gy Kwak, and Jang Hyuk Park (KOR) celebrate after winning the 5000 meters relay final at the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating in Dordrecht (NED) @International Skating Union (ISU)
The men’s Relay, meanwhile, looks like a two-horse race between Korea and hosts China, and they’ll fancy a tip at the 2000m Mixed Relay title, too.
Overall Korea look competitive in every distance, across both genders. Seeing whether they can stay at the top of the pile should make for a fascinating fortnight.