Astana and Almaty, the two largest cities in Kazakhstan, will host the seventh Asian Winter Games from Jan. 30-Feb. 6. South Korea will be represented by 150 athletes and officials in five sports.
"We will try to perform to our full capabilities," Kim Jong-wook, head of the Winter Asiad athletic delegation, said at the team's launching ceremony in Seoul. "We will further establish ourselves as a winter sports power, following the Vancouver Winter Olympics."
At the last Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, in 2007, South Korea grabbed 33 medals, including nine golds, the third most golds behind China and Japan. Kazakhstan is a rising winter sports power in Asia, and Kim said South Korea's goal is to fend off the challenge from the home country to remain in third place.
"The goal is to win at least 10 gold medals," Kim said. "In Vancouver last year, we made history in speed skating and figure skating. This time, we expect good performances from alpine skiing and ski jumping."
Kim Jong-wook, head of the South Korean delegation to the Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan this month, waves the Korean flag on Jan. 21 during the delegation launching ceremony in Seoul. (Yonhap)
In Vancouver last February, South Korea won six gold medals and 14 medals overall, its all-time high. It was also the first Winter Games where the country won gold medals in a sport other than short track speed skating, reaching the top of the podium in figure skating and long track speed skating.
Though Vancouver Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Kim Yu-na won't take the ice, other Vancouver gold medalists will represent South Korea in Kazakhstan.
Speed skaters Lee Seung-hoon, Mo Tae-bum and Lee Sang-hwa will go after their first Winter Asiad golds. In Vancouver last February, Lee Seung-hoon won gold in the men's 10,000 meters and silver in the 5,000 meters, becoming the first Asian to win an Olympic gold in a long-distance event. Lee Sang-hwa was the women's 500m champion.
Mo Tae-bum won the men's 500m title in Vancouver. But he is dealing with injuries this time. Mo suffered a groin injury in May and then tore an Achilles' tendon in his right foot with the blade of his left skate in November.
Lee Seung-hoon is entered in four races -- 5,000m, 10,000m, mass start and team pursuit -- and said he will try to grab titles in his main events, 5,000m and 10,000m.
"There are a lot of variables in mass start and team pursuit, but I will try to minimize my mistakes," he said.
Lee Sang-hwa said she actually feels less pressure now than back at the Olympics and added, "All I can think of is just to go out there and do my best."
Short trackers will try to bounce back from a recent race-fixing scandal that saw their national head coach step down in late December. Park Se-woo, who coached the country at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, is back for his second tour of duty.
Sung Si-bak is a Vancouver carryover. He won two silver medals there, but not gold, and he said he wants to make up for it with gold in Kazakhstan.
"I know Chinese skaters will be tough, but we've trained hard, and we're all great skaters, too," Sung said.
Astana will host the opening ceremony plus speed skating and hockey. Almaty, the Kazakh capital, will run ski events and short track speed skating, and then the closing ceremony.
Since the Asian Winter Games began in 1986, South Korea has won 45 gold medals and 161 in total. Twenty-five of the gold medals have come from short track speed skating.