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Once subjected to abuse, short track star Shim Suk-hee gets fresh start on semi-pro club

All News 17:18 January 03, 2020

SEOUL, Jan. 3 (Yonhap) -- As a short track speed skater, the only direction in which Shim Suk-hee moves on the ice is forward. And off the ice, the 22-year-old South Korean star is determined to keep going forward and put a history of abuse by her former coach behind her.

South Korean short track speed skater Shim Suk-hee smiles during a ceremony marking her signing with the semi-pro club run by Seoul City Hall, held at the city hall building in central Seoul on Jan. 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

Shim, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with 11 world titles, joined the semi-pro club run by Seoul City Hall on Friday. The ceremony was attended, among others, by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

Shim will graduate from Korea National Sport University later this year. Seoul City Hall, which launched its short track team in April 2007, pledged to provide Shim all the necessary support as the former teen prodigy, who failed to make the national team for the current 2019-2020 season due to injuries, eyes a return to her glory days.

"I've been thinking a lot about my career over the past year, and I've realized just how much I love short track," Shim said during the ceremony at Seoul City Hall marking her joining of the team.

"I'd like to thank my fans for always supporting me and believing in me," Shim added. "I am sorry that I've kept them waiting for so long."

Shim's burgeoning career was marred by disturbing allegations against her then-national team coach, Cho Jae-beom, in early 2018. Less than a month before the start of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the first Winter Games to take place in South Korea, Cho was accused of physically assaulting Shim, who left the national training center, apparently to avoid further abuse.

And after winning a relay gold medal at the PyeongChang Olympics, Shim charged that Cho had also sexually assaulted her for several years.

Cho was sentenced to 18 months in prison in January last year for his physical assault conviction, and is currently facing trial for his sexual assault charges, which he has denied.

South Korean short track speed skater Shim Suk-hee (L) puts on a jacket for the Seoul City Hall semi-pro club, with the help of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, during a ceremony at the city hall building in central Seoul on Jan. 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

Shim's revelation sparked a #MeToo movement in South Korean sports and provided a moment of reckoning for a sporting culture long defined by abuse in many forms. Shim was hailed for her courage and stoicism during her legal battle.

Along the way, Shim never left competitive skating. She captured her 11th career world championship gold medal last March, when she helped South Korea to the 3,000m relay title in Sofia, Bulgaria.

But in April, back and ankle injuries forced Shim out of the national team trials for the 2019-2020 season. She'll enter the trials for the 2020-2021 season in three months' time.

Shim acknowledged that she's not yet 100 percent physically, but she should be ready to skate at a high level at the upcoming national team trials.

Shim said she fielded offers from many other semi-pro clubs but chose Seoul City Hall because, "They put me ahead of everything else and they were really supportive."

Shim grabbed her first world title in 2003 as a 16-year-old, and swept up three more world titles, plus the overall championship, the following year. She then won three medals in her Olympic debut in 2014, including a gold in the 3,000m relay.

Shim continued to collect world titles at an impressive rate and looked primed to dominate the ice at PyeongChang 2018, before the assault allegations emerged.

That Shim helped South Korea to its second straight Olympic gold in the 3,000m relay speaks volumes about her mental fortitude and focus.

The once-bubbly teenager had lost some of her easy ebullience in recent years, and understandably so. But during Friday's ceremony, Shim was all smiles.

When told she seems to have brightened up, Shim said, "Yes, I get that a lot. And I like hearing it."

In this file photo from Feb. 22, 2018, Shim Suk-hee of South Korea acknowledges the crowd after clinching a berth in the semifinals of the women's 1,000-meter short track speed skating race during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, 230 kilometers east of Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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