Who is Lee Seung-Hoon?
Speed skating beginnings
Lee Seung-Hoon was born on March 6, 1988 in Seoul, South Korea and started skating when he was in first grade. He originally focused on short track, which is one of Korea’s most popular sports.
Lee seemed primed to become one of South Korea’s top short track skaters in the years before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. At the 2008 World Short Track Championships, Lee helped the Korean men to gold in the 5000m relay and finished fourth overall.
At the Winter Universiade in 2009, Lee dominated the competition to claim four medals: golds in the 1000m, 1500m and 3000m, plus a bronze with his Korean teammates in the 5000m relay.
However, Lee’s Olympic hopes seemed to be dashed when he failed to earn a spot on South Korea’s national short track team in the spring of 2009. His chance of competing in short track at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics gone, Lee considered retiring but decided to try long track speed skating instead.
Lee made the switch from the short to the long track in Sept. 2009, just five months before the Vancouver Olympics. The decision paid off when he not only made the Olympic team but also won two surprise medals.
Lee’s first Olympic medal, a silver, came when he finished behind the Netherlands’ Sven Kramer in the 5000m. In his next race, the 10,000m, Lee skated a time 22 seconds faster than his previous personal best but was again slower than Kramer. However, Kramer was disqualified for skating in the wrong lane and Lee received the gold.
Lee returned to the Olympics in 2014 but fell short of defending his 10,000m title in Sochi. He finished fourth in the longest distance, then redeemed himself by helping the Korean men to a silver medal in the team pursuit.
In recent years, Lee has emerged as a top contender in the mass start, an event that will be added to the Olympic program in PyeongChang. In the mass start, a pack of up to 24 skaters race simultaneously from the same starting line, instead of in pairs against the clock like in other individual speed skating events.
At the 2016 World Single Distance Championships, Lee won his first ever world title when he finished first in the mass start. His success continued through the next World Cup season, where he won two mass start races at World Cup events.
But Lee wasn’t able to race for a second mass start world title when he fell during the team pursuit at the 2017 World Championships. Lee sliced his leg with his blade and needed eight stitches, forcing him to withdraw from the rest of the world championships. In Lee's absence, he U.S.' Joey Mantia became the 2017 world champion in the mass start.
At the first World Cup competition of the 2017-18 season, Lee and Mantia faced off in the mass start. Lee finished first and Mantia second, setting the two up for a battle for gold in PyeongChang.
Lee is the only South Korean speed skater to win an Olympic medal in the long distance races (5000m and 10,000m).
Before the 2010 Winter Games, South Korea had never won an Olympic gold medal in speed skating. That changed in Vancouver, when three South Korea skaters claimed Olympic titles: Lee in the 10,000m, Mo Tae-Bum in the men’s 500m and Lee Sang-Hwa in the women’s 500m.
At the 2016 World Championships, Lee became the first South Korean skater, male or female, to win a world title in a race other than the 500m.
As a result of Lee’s early career as a short track skater, his strengths are rounding corners and racing head-to-head—both of which made him a formidable competitor in the mass start race.
His transition from short to long track inspired his teammate Kim Bo-Reum to switch as well. They train together and both are focused on the mass start. Kim was the 2017 world champion in the women’s mass start.
"I admit that my prowess in the 5,000m and the 10,000m is not like the old days. But I really want to win an Olympic medal in the mass start. I want to stand on the podium for third straight Olympics." – Lee Seung-Hoon to the Yonhap News
Off the ice
Lee attended the Korea National Sport University, where he majored in physical education.