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South Korean skater wins silver after team pursuit dispute

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Speedskater Kim Bo-reum has gone from being the target of an online petition calling for her to be expelled from the Pyeongchang Olympics to earning a spot on the medals podium.

The South Korean skater took silver in the women’s mass start on the final night of speedskating competition Saturday at her home games.

She leaned over and sobbed after the 16-lap race ended.

After the race, Kim skated around carrying the South Korean flag. She stopped at one end of Gangneung Oval, laid the flag on the ice, bowed to the crowd, dropped to her knees and placed her head on her hands.

”I am so sorry for the Korean people,” Kim said afterward. ”I am really sorry because I was in the middle of the big trouble.”

Kim and Park Ji-woo left their slower teammate Noh Seon-yeong behind in the team pursuit quarterfinals last Monday. Noh finished that race nearly four seconds after her teammates did. Cameras showed Kim and Park moving away after the race while Noh cried in the infield at the oval.

Some South Koreans believe Kim and Park were trying to humiliate Noh because there was nothing to be gained by crossing first. In team pursuit, the finishing time for the team is set by the third of the three skaters crossing the line.

Nearly 600,000 signatures were on an online petition to South Korea’s presidential office calling for skaters Kim and Park to be expelled from the games.

Kim had triggered public anger with comments many saw as putting the blame on Noh.

”If our last skater had come in a bit earlier we might have made the semifinals,” Kim said.

Kim appeared at a news conference with her coach last Tuesday and tearfully offered her ”sincere apology” and said she didn’t realize Noh was that far off until it was too late.

Kim, Park and Noh reunited last Wednesday to compete in the race to decide seventh-place in team pursuit. They lost to Poland and finished eighth.

On Saturday, Nana Takagi of Japan blasted past the opposition in the final straightaway to win the debut of women’s mass start.

Kim didn’t smile on the medals podium like Takagi and bronze medalist Irene Schouten of the Netherlands.

”I wanted to deeply apologize for the concerns that I caused to the Korean people,” she said.

Kim became the second South Korean woman to win a speedskating medal, joining Lee Sang-hwa, who won the 500 meters in Vancouver and Sochi and silver this time.

”I am very happy with this medal,” Kim said. ”I will treasure this medal forever. Ever since when I started at 14 or 15 I wanted to get a medal and I am very happy to get this medal for my country.”

The host country claimed seven medals at the oval, including its only gold by Lee Seung-hoon in men’s mass start.

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