Host Korea seeks an Olympic sliding breakthrough in skeleton
Korean skeleton star Yun Sungbin is absolutely obsessed with Iron Man. He collects the figurines. He’s seen the movies. He knows every aspect of the superhero’s story.
Some even call him Iron Man. He may be called Gold Man soon.
South Korea has 26 gold medals in its Winter Olympic history — all on ice, all with skates involved, most from speedskating. The nation doesn’t have much of a sliding history, but has made great strides as it builds momentum to host the Pyeongchang Games. And Yun is certainly one of the host nation’s top gold hopefuls, looking to parlay his home-track advantage into big things.
“I do believe that if I focus on what I should do, then everything will come out great,” Yun told Korean media in early January.
He could be right.
Yun was the only slider on the circuit to finish first or second in each of the first six World Cup races this season. If there’s any pressure on him as he goes into his second Olympics, and obviously his first at home, it’s not showing.
He will face serious competition from the Latvian brother duo of Martins Dukurs and Tomass Dukurs, while Matt Antoine of the United States — a medalist from the Sochi Games — has been trying to build his entire season around peaking in Pyeongchang.
In women’s skeleton, Britain might have a chance at a third straight gold from a third different woman. Laura Deas will look to carry on her team’s tradition of winning the sport’s biggest race, after Amy Williams in 2010 and Lizzy Yarnold in 2014. Since skeleton returned to the Olympic program in 2002, a British woman has won gold, silver or bronze every time.
Here’s some of what to know going into skeleton at the Pyeongchang Games:
The women’s race could be wide open with no fewer than 10 medal contenders from seven countries. Yun will be the men’s favorite, and since the host Koreans have far more runs down the track at the Alpensia Sliding Center than anyone else his familiarity there could be the edge he needs.
WHAT IS IT
No, you may not call it “headfirst luge.” Skeleton sliders go down the track headfirst, on a very different sled than those in the luge world, but can reach speeds exceeding 80 mph (128.74 kph). There’s a sprint at the start as racers hang onto their sled, then they jump aboard and go on a wild ride for the next minute or so.
Nothing like a sibling rivalry, and in this case, poor Tomass Dukurs. The Latvian is one of the sport’s very best sliders right now, but is also second-best in his own family. His brother Martins Dukurs finishes ahead of him more than 90 percent of the time when they’ve both been entered in the same international competition.
The future of women’s skeleton is clear. Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling is 22, Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje is 23, and they have been consistently better than everyone else this season. This could be the start of a real Olympic rivalry.
A World Cup has two heats on one day; an Olympic competition has four heats over two days.
These are strange times in the Olympic world because of the still-developing fallout from the doping scandal that ensnared the host Russians at the Sochi Games four years ago, one that led to many medals getting stripped — but not yet reallocated. So Martins Dukurs, who finished second in 2014, may go to Pyeongchang and still not know if he’s the defending gold medalist in his event. Katie Uhlaender, the hard-luck American veteran who has spent half her life chasing an Olympic medal, might be getting one because she finished fourth behind a since-banned Russian in Sochi four years ago. “I have to focus on what I can control, and I have to focus on myself,” Uhlaender said.
Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada is a 38-year-old who once was a teacher and part-time bus driver before deciding to pursue his Olympic skeleton hopes. He’s called Alphabet, for obvious reasons.
John Daly of the U.S. will make headlines for his super-coiffed hair. He retired after a last-run disaster in Sochi, then came back while holding down a full-time job, and everything he’s done over the last two years has been about getting ready for this race. He’ll go for broke, and it may net him a medal.
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