In what team officials said was a "highly unusual" move, South Korean short track speed skaters have been given barely an hour of on-ice training time over the next two days before the Asian Winter Games here.
It won't be nearly enough for skaters competing at Makomanai Indoor Skating Rink for the first time, but that doesn't bother former Olympic champion Lee Jung-su so much, because he has enough confidence in his and his teammates' abilities to overcome such a minor adversity.
Lee and the rest of the team arrived in Sapporo Thursday night, hoping they would get some reps on the ice at the rink. But they found out Friday wasn't an official training day, and that they would only be allowed to skate for 40 minutes on Saturday and 30 minutes on Sunday.
The short track competition starts Monday with the men's and women's 1,500m, and heats for the men's 5,000m relay.
As it was, the South Korean skaters settled for taking a quick tour inside the venue and doing off-ice training, with some running and stretching for a little over an hour.
"I just find it disappointing," said Lee, a double gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics who's skating at his first Asian Winter Games. "I am not sure if this is actually the standard procedure at all Asian Games. It just makes this competition feel like it's some minor local race."
And though the venue wasn't officially open for training, skaters from Japan got to practice on the ice.
It could be argued that South Koreans, given their sustained excellence in short track, won't really need much time to prepare. But Lee begged to differ, saying getting familiarized with a new surface is "extremely crucial."
"We're all quite sensitive about the ice, and we can recognize even the smallest of differences between venues," he said. "But seeing how chilly it is up here in the stands, I don't think the ice will be very good."
With only 70 minutes over the next two days to learn the ice, Lee said he may have to get used to the surface on the fly during the actual competition.
When asked if he felt the Japanese would be put at an unfair advantage, Lee shrugged and said, "It doesn't matter. We're better skaters, anyway."
It may sound a tad arrogant, until you realize Lee's declaration can be backed up by numbers.
Over the first seven Asian Winter Games, South Korea has won 25 gold medals in short track, compared to nine by Japan. The gap is even larger at the Winter Olympics. South Korea leads all countries with 21 Olympic short track titles, while Japan has just one gold medal under its belt.
Park Hi Yeon firstname.lastname@example.org
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