|Three women's team pursuit racers of South Korea are seen in this photo taken at Gangneung Ice Arena on Monday. From front are Park Ji-woo, Kim Bo-reum and Noh Seon-yeong. / Yonhap|
Fans raise eyebrows at immature team pursuit racers
By Kang Hyun-kyung
The crowd of the Gangneung Ice Arena Monday night watched a bizarre race during the women's team pursuit speed skating event.
Two South Korean racers _ Kim Bo-reum and Park Ji-woo _ crossed the finish line almost simultaneously, while third racer Noh Seon-yeong was left far behind her teammates. She crossed the line much later.
In team pursuit speed skating, the three racers reach the finish together because their time is recorded when the third racer crosses the line.
Noh finished the quarterfinal race in 3 minutes and 3.76 seconds. South Korea failed to make the cut for the semifinals and will compete in the placement races for final ranks between fifth and eighth.
The way the three South Korean skaters raced in the six-lap event showed something was wrong with their teamwork.
After the race, Kim remarked on what had happened. "We practiced a lot for the Olympics and our midway race was quite good," she said. "As you saw it, the racer was far behind us and the gap had become even wider as we neared the finish line… I regret our record."
Kim called Noh "the third racer," rather than by her name.
Noh, who cried after the race, declined to be interviewed and headed directly to the locker room.
Park said she and her teammates initially agreed on a strategy, in which Kim and Park, who skate faster than Noh, would lead the race by turn and Noh would follow them as leading the race is harder than chasing teammates.
Park said such a pre-game strategy didn't work midway through their race. She stopped short of saying Noh was responsible for that.
Their explanation caused a stir.
In team pursuit, three racers skate closely together and if one skater struggles, another teammate pushes from behind to help them along. Team pursuit is the only speed skating event where physical contact among same team racers is allowed.
Fans were wondering why Kim and Park didn't help their teammate finish and rather played the blame game after the race.
Kim faced a slew of criticism from fans. On the internet, she was depicted as a bully who tried to make her teammate out as a loner. Some accused her of her "childish" behavior and some even filed an online petition calling for scrapping the decision to include her in the national team.
Kim was all over the nation's largest internet portal Naver's real-time top 10 most-searched names all night. In the list, she was even ahead of sprinter Cha Min-kyu who pulled together an upset silver medal in men's 500-meter speed skating.
Some online commenters posted scathing remarks blaming her for screwing up the team event.
Kim changed her social media settings to private.
As the "Kim bashing" showed no signs of abating by Monday, she offered an apology for her immaturity.
"I know many people were upset because of me. I'm truly sorry for that," she said in a news conference hosted by Korea Skating Union. "Before the games, we worked hard and our goal was to clinch a bronze medal in the team pursuit. To make it happen we had to reach the semifinal. I was driven by the goal and had sort of pressure that I had to skate faster in the final lap. I tried to finish it within 29 seconds and that's why I couldn't take care of her (Noh) during the race."
Kim burst into tears near the end of the news conference.
Noh didn't join the press conference as she had come down with flu.