By Kang Seung-woo
South Korea's billing as the heavyweight in short track took a hard hit at the Vancouver Olympics, with its skaters winning just two gold medals on the men's side.
Now it is looking to restore its damaged reputation at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, tonight (KST).
Although Lee Jung-su topped the men's 1,000 and 1,500 meters in Vancouver, a slew of misfortune, such as questionable officiating and a collision between teammates, squandered chances of standing atop the podium.
What is worse, the women's team, which had clinched nine gold until the 2006 event, took home one silver and two bronze.
After a one-day break, the 10 national team skaters geared up for the annual three-day competition on March 4.
``Because of off-ice activities, athletes could not spend much time on training, and we are focusing on maintaining speed and stamina,'' Korean team head coach Kim Ki-hoon said.
``After putting bad memories from Vancouver aside, we will train for the championship.''
The men's team is seeking to defend the title.
Lee Ho-suk, an Olympic silver medalist in the men's 1,000, won, grabbed two gold in the 1,000 and 1,500 en route to becoming overall world champion last year.
Along with Lee, double gold medalist Lee Jung-su and Sung Si-bak, who collected one silver and one bronze in Vancouver, are champion-caliber skaters.
The women's skaters have set their eyes on stopping China's dominance, which won all four gold in the sport at the Games and five at the last contest in Vienna, Austria.
The women's team crossed the finish line first in the final far ahead of the Chinese skaters, but was questionably disqualified for interference, which ended its quest to win a record fifth-straight gold medal in the event at the Winter Games.
``Korean skaters are highly motivated. They are surely keen to win a relay gold medal,''' women's coach Choi Kwang-bok said.
All Olympic gold medal winners will be present at the upcoming event.
Reigning world champion Wang Meng of China, the triple gold medalist in the women's 500, 1,000 and 3,000 relay, and Wang's compatriot Zhou Yang, the 1,500 champion, will look to continue their medal run at the championships and Canadian Charles Hamelin, the 500 and 5,000-relay winner, will also be on the men's field.
American Apolo Anton Ohno, the 2008 overall world champion, will not compete this time.