|Two-time Olympic gold medalist Lee Sang-hwa wipes away tears as she announces her retirement from speedskating at The Plaza Hotel in Seoul, Thursday. / Yonhap|
Lee Sang-hwa retires as speed skater
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Lee Sang-hwa, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the women's 500-meter speed skating, bade farewell to fans Thursday as she announced her retirement from the sport.
She was emotional throughout the news conference held for the announcement.
"I am here to say goodbye to fans and retire as a speed skater," she said at the Plaza Hotel in central Seoul. "I've thought of what to say for the past few days. I was so nervous, and was afraid I would not be able to deliver my message. So I prepared my speech."
She burst into tears as she began reading.
"I have a vivid memory of the day when I was chosen to represent Korea," she said. "I was 15. At that time, I set my own goals to be a winner of the world championship, become an Olympic gold medalist and set a world record. I've worked hard to achieve those three goals. I was able to fulfill my goals thanks to the huge support from the Korean public."
Lee has sustained a knee injury which prevents her from continuing her athletic career.
The Olympic champion said retirement was a tough decision to make. She was initially scheduled to hold a news conference in March to announce her retirement.
"I could feel what it would be like to retire from skating. I realized I didn't want it. So I cancelled the news conference to focus on rehab and to wait and see if I could skate again. I realized it will take a lot of time to be fully recover… That's why I am here today."
Lee is a trailblazer in Korea's speed skating history.
She finished fifth in the women's 500 meter race at the Turin Winter Olympics, which was then the highest achievement for a female Korean speed skater.
She surprised the world by clinching a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. With this, she became the first Korean woman to win an Olympic medal.
Her record-breaking career has since continued.
She set world records four times between 2012 and 2014. In 2013, she finished first with a record 36.36 seconds at the World Cup in November, 2013 in Salt Lake City in Utah. Over five years have since passed, but her world record still stands.
Lee became an Olympic champion again at the 2014 Sochi Olympics by finishing first in the women's 500-meter final. She is the first Asian woman to win a gold medal twice in the 500-meter speed skating finals. Lee competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics to rewrite history but she finished second. Her Japanese rival Kodaira Nao clinched the gold. Lee shed tears.
The two skaters received the spotlight for their sportsmanship. The Japanese skater hugged and consoled her rival, Lee.
Regarding her future, Lee said she had no after-retirement plan at the moment. But she was open to the possibility of being a coach for speed skaters.
"Speed skating is not a popular sport. I feel regret about this," she said. "I may be able to get a chance to coach younger speed skaters in the future. Although I won't compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, I hope I can join the Olympics as a commentator or a coach of the national team."