Speed skater keeps focus on race, not ice

Lee Seung-hoon takes a turn during his practice ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia on Feb. 5, 2014.

Lee Seung-hoon takes a turn during his practice ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia on Feb. 5, 2014.

SOCHI, Russia- With the Sochi Winter Olympics just a day away, speed skater Lee Seung-hoon faces a tall order of trying to win South Korea’s first medal in this year’s games.

He is scheduled to take part in the men’s 5,000-meter race on Saturday, one day after the opening ceremony here in Russia. Four years ago in Vancouver, he won the silver medal in the same event, the country’s first medal at the Winter Olympics then.

Under pressure to pull off a repeat performance, Lee said he is trying to keep his focus on the competition, rather than the ice conditions at the Adler Arena Skating Center.’

Kevin Crockett, coach of the South Korean speed skating squad, called the surface “funny.” Skaters have offered different testimonials about the surface, with some saying it was mushy and soft while others opined that it was harder.

Either way, Lee said it won’t affect his preparation.

“Everyone will be competing on the same ice,” he said after his practice on Wednesday. “I don’t think the ice conditions will make any difference. Obviously, skaters have their own preferences, but I don’t think the ice alone can really determine the final standings.”
Lee faces a long road ahead. After his 5,000m, he will have nine days off before defending his 10,000m gold medal on Feb. 18. Three days later, it will be the team pursuit race.

The importance of starting the Olympics on a right note wasn’t lost on the 25-year-old.

“I must admit there is more pressure on me now before the first race than four years ago,” he said. “But I am going to try to enjoy this Olympic experience.”
Lee, a former short tracker, spent some time training with the short track team in the Netherlands a few days before joining his speed skating brethren late last month. He said he needs to take a breather.

“I haven’t had any rest since the start of training in the Netherlands,” Lee said. “I will take a day off (on Thursday) and then resume some light training the following day. More so than the ice, I think it will come down to who can be in the best form.”