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Speed skater Lee Kyou-hyuk bids teary farewell to sport

2014/04/07 14:08

SEOUL, April 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korean speed skater Lee Kyou-hyuk on Monday bid a teary farewell to his sport, saying he ends his career a happy man despite not having won an Olympic medal.

The 36-year-old announced after the Sochi Winter Olympics in February that he would hang up his skates for good, and held a formal ceremony in Seoul on Monday to make it official. The occasion was attended by members of his family and also luminaries in South Korean sports, including Olympic speed skating gold medalist Lee Sang-hwa, Olympic short track champions Park Seung-hi and Lee Jung-soo, and the Korea Skating Union chief Kim Jae-youl.

South Korean speed skater Lee Kyou-hyuk wipes tears during his retirement ceremony in Seoul on April 7, 2014. (Yonhap)

South Korean speed skater Lee Kyou-hyuk wipes tears during his retirement ceremony in Seoul on April 7, 2014. (Yonhap)

Lee Kyou-hyuk served as the South Korean flag bearer in Sochi, his sixth Olympics. He has competed in more Olympics than any other South Korean, summer or winter, but he failed to win a medal in his half-dozen appearances.

Looking back, Lee said that not winning a medal might just have been a blessing in disguise.

"I've come this far believing winning an Olympic gold would mean everything, but now, I think I am actually lucky not to have won one," Lee said. "If I had won a medal some 10, 20 years ago, I don't think I would have been as grateful as I am today."

   Lee credited his desire to reach an Olympic podium with driving him through so many years.

"I was devastated after every Olympics, but I now think that it was all part of my maturing process," he said. "So after one Olympics, I would work hard for another four years. I may not have a medal to my credit, but I think I've gained so much more."

   Lee choked back his tears as he went down the list of people to thank, including his coaches and his ailing father.

"I am happy to be their grandson, son and brother," Lee said of his family. "Now, I am ready to do my best as a member of our family."

   Even though Lee retires without an Olympic medal, he won virtually everything else a speed skater could win. He holds four world sprint titles and one world single distance championship in the 500 meters. Lee once owned world records in both the 1,000m and the 1,500m.

The closest he came to winning a medal was in the 1,000m at the 2006 Turin Olympics, when he finished in fourth place by five-hundredth of a second.

Only about a month before the 2010 Vancouver Games, Lee had won both of the 1,000m races at the world sprint championships to capture his third overall title.

He couldn't maintain his form in Vancouver, however, and ended in ninth in the 1,000m and 15th in the 500m.

In Sochi, Lee finished the 500m in 18th and the 1,000m in 21st.

Lee said he doesn't have any immediate post-career plans other than "to rest and spend time with my family," because he's been solely focusing on speed skating for so long. He didn't rule out an eventual career in coaching.

"I would one day like to coach the national team," Lee said. "I've just retired, and I think I still have some feel for the sport. Even if it's not in any coaching capacity, I'd be willing to do anything to help younger skaters at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics (in South Korea in 2018)."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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