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Short track event brings back fond memories for once-bitter rivals

All Headlines 19:27 December 17, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- They may be shaking hands and sharing a hug whenever they see each other now, but former short track skaters Kim Dong-sung and Apolo Anton Ohno will forever be linked in history to something decidedly less congenial.

At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Kim, the South Korean star, was stripped of his gold medal in the men's 1,500m after getting disqualified for interfering with Ohno, his American rival. Ohno, who raised his arms at the finish line to avoid collision with Kim, was criticized by angry Korean fans for embellishing his gesture, and became a huge public enemy here.

Time may not have healed all the wounds, but the two have at least buried their hatchet, and the once-disgruntled South Korean public has also moved on. And when they were reunited in South Korea on Saturday at an international short track competition here, Kim and Ohno both gave off nothing but positive vibes.

Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, is hosting the fourth leg of the International Skating Union World Cup Short Track Speed Skating. It's a test event for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where Gangneung will hold short track, figure skating and hockey as a sub-host.

Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States (L) and Kim Dong-sung of South Korea, both former Olympic short track champions, speak to each other during their joint press conference on the sidelines of the International Skating Union World Cup Short Track Speed Skating at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Dec. 17, 2016. (Yonhap)

Kim is here as an MC inside the arena during breaks, while Ohno is doing commentary for the U.S. network NBC. At their joint press conference, both spent time reminiscing about their skating days.

"I am a former skater, but I am also a big fan of short track," said Kim, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist and a two-time world overall champion. "And as a fan, it's great to see such exciting races, and it reminds me of all the thrills I felt as an athlete."

Ohno, who hung up his skates in 2010 with eight Olympic medals, including two golds, said he has missed the sport "every day since I retired."

"When I do get a chance to come to events like this, my heart rate is elevated watching the races," he said. "It's an amazing sport in so many ways. It brings back many memories. I wish I could go back to my younger self and do it all over again."

Ohno said he was already looking forward to the Olympics here in about a year's time, saying he hoped short track will be one of the biggest events at the 2018 Games.

And he said competing on home ice will do wonders for South Korean athletes, recalling his experience of racing in Salt Lake City at the 2002 Olympics.

"I believe there's a tremendous amount of advantage when your country is the Olympic site," he said. "This whole country will be rooting for the short track team. There's something very special about having the home crowd. And there's a sense of pride on the home ice that's very special. It will make Korean skaters' experience very special."

Kim said he was pleasantly surprised with the crowd support here, and said their etiquette -- not taking flash photos or yelling before the start, for instance -- has also improved.

And now the onus falls on the athletes to live up to expectations. When asked about the South Korean men's recent struggles -- at least relative to the women's success -- Kim said the skaters have to go back to the drawing board.

"I don't know if our skaters have necessarily performed poorly; it's just that there's more parity in short track today," Kim said. "I think our skaters will have to assume the mindset of the chaser, not the chased. There's about a year left until PyeongChang and they will have to work really hard and prove once again that Korea is still No. 1 in short track."

The two had last met each other during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, while working as TV commentators. Ohno said he enjoyed being around Kim and he loved how both have managed to stay within the sport in some capacity.

Asked how often he's spoken to Ohno of late, Kim quipped, "I haven't really talked to him much because he lives in the U.S. and international calls are expensive."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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