INCHEON, Dec. 15 (Korea Bizwire) – Fully back on track with injury issues behind her, South Korean speed skater Lee Sang-hwa said Tuesday she’s “satisfied” with how her season has gone so far.
The two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 500 meters returned home from Heerenveen, the Netherlands, where she competed in the fourth leg of the 2015-2016 International Skating Union (ISU) Speed Skating World Cup season. Lee has won four out of the eight 500m races so far and has finished second twice. She leads all female skaters in the 500m with 680 World Cup points, 120 ahead of Heather Richardson of the United States.
“I’ve been skating better than I’d expected, and I’ve surprised myself,” she told reporters gathered at Incheon International Airport. “I think all the sweat I shed last summer is paying off. This has been a satisfying season.”
Lee, the world record holder in the 500m at 36.36 seconds, said she bore down and worked extra hard before this season because she felt she tailed off toward the end of the 2014-2015 season.’
Lee, 26, had battled nagging knee issues after winning her second straight Olympic gold in Sochi last year, but she has been healthy so far this season.
“I’ve been working on my starts, but I also want to make sure I have a strong finish to all races,” she added. “It’s important to maintain that balance. I even set a track record (last weekend at Heerenveen with 37.59 seconds) and it felt great.”
Though Richardson is in second place in the points standings, she doesn’t actually have a victory this season — she has earned her points with a pair of runner-up finishes and four third-place finishes.
It’s Zhang Hong of China who has been pushing Lee harder. She is third in the standings with 510 points but does have three victories. She didn’t compete in the third World Cup stop in Inzell, Germany.
At the first World Cup stop in Calgary, Canada, on Nov. 13, Lee won the first 500m race in 36.96 seconds, 0.22 second faster than Zhang. Two days later, the Chinese star returned the favor and won the second 500m race in 36.94 seconds, beating Lee by 0.05 second.
Then on Nov. 21 in Salt Lake City for the second World Cup, Zhang edged out Lee by one-hundredth of a second at 36.82 to take the second 500m race there.
Zhang won the 1,000m gold medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics last year and is now giving Lee a run for her money in the 500m — not that Lee is too concerned.
“I am not paying too much attention (to Zhang’s season),” Lee said. “She was great at the Sochi Olympics last year, too. But I’m not worried about what others are doing. It’s important to control my emotions as the season wears on.”
The next World Cup stop will be Stavanger, Norway, during the final weekend of January. After that, Kolomna, Russia will host the 2016 World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships from Feb. 11 to 14. Lee won the 500m gold medals in that event in 2012 and 2013 but finished fifth in 2015.