SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korean speed skaters who competed in mass-start races are facing controversy as confused viewers question some athletes’ decision to make sacrifices for other team members, but experts say team play is essential in this type of competition.
Speed skaters Lee Seung-hoon and Kim Bo-reum, who won gold and silver in the mass start at the PyeongChang Olympics, found themselves mired in controversy after viewers questioned skater Chung jae-won’s supporting role in the final last Saturday, which saw him finish the race in 8th place.
Chung led the race at the beginning in the lead group of the 16-man pack as a pacemaker, until Lee gathered speed towards the end before outmatching competitors in a signature last minute spurt.
After the race, Lee thanked Chung for his play by patting him, while Chung said, “I gave my best effort and did my job. It was team play, not sacrifice.”
Experts including speed skating analysts say that mass start races require strategy and tactics as a team.
“Realistically speaking, some skaters need to provide help to raise the chance of winning for other team members in mass start speed skating. The ultimate goal of both the athletes and the skating union is to achieve the best result. It is a stretch to see it as ‘sacrifice’ and ‘favor’ from one player to another,” said Moon Joon, an analyst at MBC.
It’s a known fact that team work is essential in winning mass-start races, and some players play a supportive role known as a pacemaker to help faster skaters on their team win medals.
Mass start speed skating, which returned to the Olympics after making its first appearance at the Lake Placid 1932 Winter Olympics, has caused confusion, however, with some viewers accusing the South Korean skaters of helping each other win medals.
While other strong teams from Japan and the Netherlands also employed similar team play, criticism continues to be expressed in South Korea, with sports fans accusing some skaters of having a fix based on personal ties within the Korea Skating Union.
“Lee Seung-hoon has a great amount of experience under his belt and is one of the top-ranked skaters in the world. It is expected for a talented athlete to take on the role of a medal maker, rather than a pace maker. The claim that Lee received special treatment is hard to take seriously,” Moon said.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)