South Korea unlikely rising power in long track 

South Korea is well known for its mastery of wild and woolly short track speedskating. Success on the big oval, though, has been elusive.

Until now.

South Korean skaters have won two golds and a silver in long track, while the United States has been shut out and the Dutch have just one in the first four days of Olympic competition.

The Asian nation had never won a gold at the Winter Olympics in any sport other than short track until its dominant opening run at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Lee Seung-hoon won a silver in the men's 5,000 meters on Saturday, and Mo Tae-bun earned a gold in the 500 on Monday.

Inspired by their performances, Lee Sang-hwa scored an upset victory in the women's 500 on Tuesday, beating gold-medal favorite Jenny Wolf of Germany, who took a silver. Wang Beixing of China earned the bronze.

"In the past, we weren't very successful, but we were able to expand the hours of practice," Lee said through a translator. "I'm very lucky. Wolf and Wang were always better than me, so it's hard for me to believe I got the gold."

Winning a gold in the sprint race has boosted Mo's confidence going into Wednesday's 1,000, where he'll take on American Shani Davis, the world-record holder and defending Olympic champion.

"The 500 meters was not my strongest," Mo said through a translator. "However, I am looking forward to the 1,000 and will try to do my best."

Mo won the 500 despite being ranked 14th coming into the Olympics and never having earned a medal in any event this season. But he's second to Davis in the 1,000 rankings.

"Things that I can't really believe are happening," said Mo, who celebrated his 21st birthday by winning the gold.

Lee felt the same way after giving South Korea a sweep of the sprint events on a day when there were no problems with the ice resurfacing machines that caused trouble Sunday and Monday.

Mo's victory put some heat on Lee to keep up.

"I was very glad my friend was able to win gold, but I was also very anxious and very nervous," she said. "Actually, I did not sleep very well last night."

Wolf, the world-record holder, and Wang came in expecting to battle for the top spot on the podium, having swept all eight 500 races during the World Cup season. But Lee held off Wolf by five-hundredths of a second, winning with a total time of 1 minute, 16.09 seconds.

Wolf had the fastest time in the second race, but it wasn't enough to erase Lee's lead from the first heat, leaving the German with a silver at 1:16.14. Wang took the bronze in 1:16.63.

"This season I had a few problems and I wasn't skating the way I wanted to skate," Wolf said. "I was hoping for more, so I'm a little bit disappointed."

The top American was Olympic rookie Heather Richardson, a North Carolina native who made the inline-to-ice transition in 2007 and expects to make a bigger splash at the 2014 Sochi Games.

She finished sixth in 1:17.17, shaving two-tenths of a second off her time in the second heat. The other Americans were far back: Elli Ochowicz was 17th, four-time Olympian Jennifer Rodriguez 21st and Lauren Cholewenski 30th.

"I nailed my start in both races," said Richardson, who considers the 1,000 her best event. "I didn't expect to do so well in this race."

With eight long-track events still to go, South Koreans have more chances to pile up medals. Over at the short track venue, they'll be favored in several events, too.

With more success, they'll no longer be the surprise of speedskating.

But for now, Olympic great Eric Heiden couldn't help wonder, "Where did these guys come from?"

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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