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Speed Skater Scores Upset Win in 10,000 Meters

Posted February. 25, 2010 07:48,   


Call it Korea’s version of “Miracle on Ice.

Speed skater Lee Seung-hoon, 22, earned his country its fifth gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics yesterday by winning the men`s 10,000-meter speed skating event with a time of 12:58.55 at Richmond Olympic Oval.

His victory is an Olympic first by an Asian in a long-distance speed skating event.

The silver medal went to Ivan Skobrev (13:02.07) of Russia and the bronze was won by Bob de Jong (13:06.73) of the Netherlands.

World-record holder Sven Kramer of the Netherlands thought he had won the gold, but was disqualified for an amateurish mistake.

Here is a recount of how Lee won the gold and opened a new chapter in Korean speed skating history.

Lee said he felt uncomfortable about being the first to start. Ranked ninth in the world rankings, he was placed in Group 5. All of the other competitors ranked higher than him were to skate after his group. All he could do was to do his best and wait for the results.

This was Lee’s third participation in the 10,000 meters. Though he won the silver in the men`s 5,000-meter speedskating Sunday, he was not considered a leading candidate to win a medal in the 10,000-meter speedskating.

Lee and Arjen Van de Kieft of the Netherlands stood together at the starting line. “I had no information on him because he was a beginner. I just ran at my own pace,” Lee said.

The 10,000-meter speedskating is considered the marathon of speed skating in which skaters must complete 25 laps around the 400-meter track. Lee led from the first lap and was ahead of the top contender by as much as 10.22 seconds after 5,200 meters.

The Olympic Oval was full of orange on the day with numerous Dutch fans, whose country is the birthplace of speedskating. They packed the skating rink to watch their medal favorite Sven Kramer win the gold.

Lee led Kieft by more than a lap when he crossed the finish line. Even Dutch fans gave Lee a standing ovation to show their surprise at his stellar performance.

They were not there to see Lee, however. Twelve-time world champion Kramer had won the gold in the 5,000 meters earlier in the Vancouver Olympics.

Lee, however, emerged as a dark horse to seriously challenge Kramer in the 10,000-meter race. After completing the 5,000-meter speedskating event, Kramer said, “When I was skating the last three laps, I bit the bullet. Lee’s last-ditch spurt had me going crazy.”

Kramer had no need to bite the bullet in the final minutes of the 10,000-meter race, however. He moved to the in-course after ending the 16th lap (6,400 meters) while leading Lee by 2.9 seconds. He again entered the in-course after finishing the 17th lap.

Kramer’s coach sent his star skater the wrong signal and Kramer failed to change lanes, a rule violation. The Dutchman was ahead of Lee by 5.8 seconds just before the final lap and led by 4.05 seconds after crossing the finish line.

Then the drama began. Kramer threw his goggles in disgust after hearing of his disqualification, while a jubilant Lee waved the Korean flag.

At the flower ceremony, runners-up Skobrev and de Jong exchanged eye signals and lifted up Lee with his thighs in their arms. The Korean was surprised but smiled soon after.

The touching moment showed there was no question about Lee’s victory. Skobrev, who raced versus Kramer, said, “Kramer appeared right in front of me all of sudden (due to confusion) in the race. Kramer was under heavy pressure from his fans and sponsors to win the gold, which led to his mistake.”

Lee set an Olympic record in the 10,000 meters, and also bettered his personal best by 21.49 seconds. “My Olympic record and Kramer’s mistake are both miracles. I feel lucky to win the gold.”