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Meet Sophia Jeong, Korea’s other skeleton racer

Jan 05,2018
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Skeleton racer Sophia Jeong trains at the Olympic Sliding Centre in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, in June, 2016. [YONHAP]
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Sophia Jeong
When Koreans talk about skeleton, a sport in which athletes slide down head first on an icy track, most of them probably think of Yun Sung-bin, currently No. 1 in the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) men’s world ranking.

While Yun will be obviously in the spotlight next month at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Sophia Jeong believes she can also earn fans’ attention in women’s skeleton.

“I know people are interested in men’s skeleton because there’s a top-class slider, but I hope they can also pay attention to women’s skeleton because we’re also working hard to win a medal,” Jeong said last month before departing for an IBSF World Cup event in Germany.

Jeong had been mainly racing in low-tier competitions like the North American Cup and Intercontinental Cup until last November. In her first IBSF World Cup event in Park City, Utah, on Nov. 19, Jeong finished 25th, but she is improving steadily. In her second World Cup event in Innsbruck, Austria, last month, the 24-year-old took 19th place with a combined time of 1 minute, 51.01 seconds.

“At the World Cup, I felt some nerves and I couldn’t think of anything,” she said. “But I felt relieved because my start wasn’t bad in the second heat.”

Jeong is currently Korea’s top female skeleton slider, at No. 26 in the world with 366 points. She must be inside the top 35 in the rankings to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics when the season’s seventh IBSF World Cup event ends next week in St. Moritz, Switzerland, although Korea will be given at least one automatic spot as the host.

Jeong got her start in skeleton in September 2014 after she heard that the women’s national skeleton team was looking for a slider from her university senior- who is also a friend of men’s bobsleigh team member Kim Dong-hyun.

Jeong believes that an Olympic medal is possible, since homegrown athletes have advantages. All 16 IBSF-approved tracks in the world have different course settings, meaning those who have raced many times on the Olympic track in Pyeongchang will have a better chance to perform well at the upcoming Games.

Since the track at the Olympic Sliding Centre in Pyeongchang was fully completed in October 2016, Korean sliders, including Jeong, have been practicing on the track whenever they get the chance, which is certainly more often than foreign athletes. Jeong says she still needs to work hard to adapt to the Olympic track.

“I kept making mistakes when I got out of curve nine,” she said. “Whenever I race, I feel it’s not easy and I think I need to work harder.”

Jeong hopes she is not the only woman representing Korea at the PyeongChang Olympics. Mun Ra-young, the first Korean woman to win an international title in skeleton, is also looking to put in a surprising performance next month. Mun, 21, is currently 39th in the IBSF rankings.

“I hope both of us can stand on the podium at the PyeongChang Olympics,” Jeong said.

Yonhap