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Halfpipe pro gears up for PyeongChang

Lee says he surfs or goes skateboarding to keep balance sharp
Feb 16,2017
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Lee Kwang-ki, Korea’s best half-pipe snowboarder, prepares for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics with a goal of advancing onto the final round. [SHIN IN-SEOP]
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Lee Kwang-ki, Korea’s best halfpipe snowboarder, hopes to stand on the podium at the International Ski Federation (FIS) Freestyle Snowboard World Cup in Phoenix Snow Park on Friday, a test event for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

After missing his spot onto the final round of halfpipe by finishing 11th in the qualification round at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Lee showed great potential as he recently finished sixth at the Mammoth FIS Snowboard World Cup in 2016.

In halfpipe snowboarding, competitors slide down the semi-circular ditch and perform their skills and tricks while going down the slopes from one side to another.

At the FIS World Cup, Lee hopes to perform a “cab double cork 1440.” The skill requires Lee to spin four times in the air, one and a half rotations sideways and another two and a half back layouts. Lee is one of four players in the world to be able to spin 1440 degrees in the air.

“My first task is to successfully show a cab double cork 1440 at PyeongChang,” Lee said. “I have to master this so I can start working on a new skill that’s never been shown by other snowboarders.”

Halfpipe shows quick development in skills as new tricks are presented in international events every year. Many halfpipe snowboarders say that skills develop quickly every year. A skill that they work hard on for months can become boring after a year, which is a stressful but lively process.

After Lee snowboarded for the first time at the Phoenix Snow Park on Tuesday, he said, “The park is in excellent condition.”

As a snowboarder, injury is very common. He was able to master the cab double cork 1440 only after suffering serious injuries. Since Lee doesn’t care much about his safety when he is learning new skills, when he got injured, they were serious.

“I probably spent more than two years in the hospital for my injuries after I switched from alpine to halfpipe,” Lee said.

So far, Lee broke his ankle twice, his left wrist three times and his right wrist twice. Not only that, there was a time when he lost his memory for a few days after landing wrong while practicing his spins.

“In a year, I probably had less than 50 days off of training,” Lee said. “During my off days, I go surfing or skateboarding so I can work on my balance. I have more fun training than resting.”

For Lee to become the nation’s top athlete, he pointed to his family’s support. Despite his poor childhood, his family never discouraged him from practicing his sport. Once Lee found his sponsor, he was able to support his family. Lee recently bought a laptop for his sister and gave an allowance to his father.

Lee believes every second at Pyeongchang is valuable in his preparation for the Olympics.

Lee will have to compete against famous snowboarders such as two-time Olympic champion Shaun White of the United States and Sochi Olympic gold medalist Iouri Poladtchikov of Russia this weekend.

“I want to enjoy the preparation process for the PyeongChang World Cup,” he said, “Sapporo Winter Asian Games as well as the PyeongChang Olympics.”

BY SONG JI-HOON AND KIM JI-HAN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]