Confident speed skater Lee Sang-hwa hopes to enjoy herself at Winter Games
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- Brimming with confidence, speed skating world record holder Lee Sang-hwa said Friday she is looking forward to enjoying herself in her Olympic title defense in Russia next year.
During a short break from her practice at the National Training Center in northern Seoul, the reigning Olympic champion in the women's 500 meters said the 2014 Sochi Winter Games will be "a festival" next February.
"Once I land in Sochi and start preparing for my race, I want to have as much fun as I can," she said. "I don't want to get too caught up in the competition."
The 24-year-old's self-assurance and apparent peace of mind can be attributed to an impressive track record. She was the surprise gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, becoming the first South Korean woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal. Lee also owns the world record in distance, at 36.36 seconds.
She set her first world record in January with 36.80 seconds, and then broke her own mark three times in November alone, including on back-to-back days in Salt Lake City during the International Skating Union (ISU) Speed Skating World Cup season.
Sochi will be Lee's third successive Winter Olympics. With a gold medal already in the bags, Lee said she will be more relaxed in Sochi than she had been in Vancouver.
"In Vancouver, I wanted to reach the podium and I felt a lot of pressure trying to meet that goal," she recalled. "Today, I have a better idea of how to handle such pressure. And I think I can be more at ease this time around since I have already won a medal. If I can stay within myself, I should be able to put up a good result, too."
Lee said she was "proud" of being the world record holder in her signature event, and being the standard bearer in the 500ｍ has been a major boost to her confidence.
Lee also shrugged off concerns about an extended layoff from competitions between now and Sochi.
She skipped the national sprint championships earlier this week, and will also sit out the world sprint championships in mid-January in Japan. Her last race came during the World Cup season on Dec. 6 in Berlin, and Lee will likely go two full months without racing until the Olympics.
Lee said she'd been competing so much since early November that she needed to pace herself, and that she's not worried about losing her momentum.
"I think I've already passed a point where I might lose the feel for the ice just because I sit out some competitions," Lee said. "With my training on and off the ice, I am trying not to lose good vibes (from World Cup races) and I really don't think I will."
In March this year, Lee won the world championship at the very venue that will host the speed skating races at the Sochi Games, the Adler Arena Skating Center. She said the place reminded her of the Richmond Olympic Oval from the Vancouver Olympics, and she had the same "positive feelings" that she had in Canada.
Lee said the key to her success will be her start. She admitted that she is prone to make mistakes right after the starting gun and is trying to fix that before the Olympics.
"I often botch my first couple of steps from the starting line," she said. "Sometimes I nail them and have a perfect race, but I also make mistakes. As long as I can avoid them, I should be fine (in Sochi)."
Lee is trying to become only the third female speed skater to repeat as the Olympic champion in the 500ｍ, after Bonnie Blair of the United States and Catriona Le May Doan of Canada. The South Korean said she doesn't need to put any more pressure on herself.
"It's always a challenge to control my emotions," Lee said. "I am trying to look at Sochi as just another competition and to prepare for it like I would for any other race so that I won't get too nervous."