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(LEAD) S. Korean sliders make triumphant return home after banner seasons

All Headlines 18:12 March 01, 2016

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INCHEON, March 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korean sliders made a triumphant return home Tuesday after successful seasons in bobsleigh and skeleton, having raised hopes for the country's first Olympic medals in their sports.

The two-man bobsleigh team of Won Yun-jong and Seo Young-woo ended the 2015-2016 International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF) season as the world's No. 1, thanks to two gold and three silver medals at eight IBSF World Cup races. Though they ranked seventh at the world championships, they were still able to end the season as the top-ranked tandem thanks to their second World Cup victory of the season last weekend in Germany.

Skeleton slider Yun Sung-bin secured the No. 2 IBSF ranking on the strength of one gold, three silver and two bronze medals from eight World Cup races, including his last silver of the season at the final World Cup race last weekend in Germany. He also won a historic silver medal at the world championships last month, becoming the first Asian to reach the world podium in his sport.

Their strong performances bode well for host South Korea's chances at the 2018 Winter Olympics at their home track in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. The Alpensia Sliding Centre is nearing completion, and the sliders will have test runs on the new track from Wednesday to Sunday.

They will then have two days off before returning to training on March 10.

Won and Seo said they wrapped up the season confident that they can win the gold at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

"I am so happy with the way our season has gone, and it still hasn't hit me yet," Won told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "Before the start of the season, we received key information on tracks around the world. We will start planning for the next season and gearing towards the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, too."

Won earned 1578 points to top the IBSF standings for the season, 60 points better than Oskars Melbardis of Latvia. Won also finished first in the IBSF World Cup standings with 1562 points.

Seo, who battled a slight back injury in the latter part of the season, said he wants to keep improving his start times.

"Around this time next year, hopefully we'll be satisfied with both our starts and our overall race," Seo added. "We're confident that if we keep this up, we could win the gold medal in PyeongChang."

Yun, a 21-year-old who only picked up skeleton about three years ago, said he shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as other top sliders, namely world No. 1 Martins Dukurs. The dominant Latvian won seven out of eight World Cup races, his only defeat when going up against Yun in February in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

In the IBSF world rankings, Dukurs ended the season with 1800 points, 143 better than Yun. In the World Cup standings, Dukurs posted 1785 points to finish first, while Yun managed 1575 points.

"I did much better than I'd expected," Yun said. "But I still have a long way to go. If I can keep improving for PyeongChang, I think I'll be able to smile two years later (at the Olympics)."

Yun said he doesn't think much of his victory over Dukurs -- "I only beat him once in eight World Cups," he said -- but did acknowledge it was a boost to his confidence.

"Last season, I didn't think I could even get close to Dukurs," Yun said. "But I don't feel that way anymore. I think I'll be able to keep closing in on him."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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