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Olympic athletes buckle down with 30 days to go

Korean athletes are entering the home stretch for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, as the countdown to the quadrennial event reached 30 days on Wednesday.

Korean national short-track speed skaters train during an open house event at Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong on Wednesday. [YONHAP]
National teams for short-track speed skating, men’s hockey, freestyle aerial skiing and curling opened their practice to the media at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Seoul. This allowed a glimpse into some rigorous training, and the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KSOC) said it would be one of the final opportunities to see athletes at work, as they hope to avoid further distractions while preparing for the first Winter Games to be held in Korea.

Korea is aiming to win eight gold medals and rank inside the top four in the medal race. The country’s best Winter Games showing came in Vancouver in 2010, when it captured six gold medals and 14 medals in total to rank fifth. Perhaps no other athletes are under more pressure to deliver the goods than the short-track skaters. For Korea, 21 of its 26 Winter Games gold medals have come from short-track.

Choi Min-jeong, one of the most dominant female short trackers in the world today, said she’ll try not to get caught up in final results.

“I am excited and nervous at the same time as the Olympics nears,” Choi said. “If I can just focus on the process, I think the results will follow.”

The men’s hockey team has gathered 36 players for the camp, and head coach Jim Paek will finalize his roster of 25 later this month.

Korea will make its Olympic debut as the host nation, and the 21st-ranked team will face world No. 1 and two-time defending gold medalist Canada, as well as No. 6 Czech Republic and seventh-ranked Switzerland, in the preliminary round.

Despite the uphill battle, Paek, former National Hockey League (NHL) defenseman, said his goal of trying to win the gold medal hasn’t changed.

“If we didn’t expect to win the gold medal, we wouldn’t be here training” Paek said. “Every player is working extremely hard. That’s why we’re here - to work extremely hard and shoot for our dreams.”

In freestyle skiing, former artistic gymnast Kim Kyoung-eun will be the first Korean to compete in the aerial event. Her coach, Cho Sung-dong, is a former gymnast himself, having coached the 2012 Olympic vault champion Yang Hak-seon.

Cho said Korea is in the infancy stage in aerial, but it’s a sport worth an investment with a long-term view.

“When I first took over the national gymnastics team in 1979, we were 49th among 53 countries in the world,” Cho said. “But we’ve been able to produce Olympic champions like Yang Hak-seon because we put in consistent effort. The first one through the wall always gets bloody. I think if we can have the same long-term commitment to aerial, we can expect an Olympic medal down the road.”

Yonhap
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