By Baek Byung-yeul
The Korean national athletes for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics were officially disbanded Monday.
At the Gangneung Olympic Village, 184 athletes and officials of the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Olympics held a ceremony to mark the end of their Winter Olympics campaign.
For its first-ever Winter Olympics, Korea sent its largest Winter Olympic delegation of 144 athletes in all 15 sports and finished seventh in the gold medal tally with five gold, eight silver and four bronze medals. They earned a total of 17 medals, surpassing the country’s previous record of 14 in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Kim Ji-yong, head of the Korean athletic delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics said the Korean athletes displayed their full potential.
“Though we couldn’t keep the promise to win eight gold, four silver and eight bronze medals for a top-four finish, I think our athletes showed the power of Korea,” said Kim.
Do Jong-hwan, minister of culture, sports and tourism expressed his gratitude to the Korean people for hosting a successful Olympic Games.
“Collaborating with the Korean people, we could hold the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics successfully,” Do said at the disbanding ceremony.
The minister also recognized the extraordinary effort of the Korean athletes. “I am so proud of our athletes who did their best and so pleased that we could win medals in a variety events.”
Mentioning the budding friendship between speed skaters Lee Sang-hwa of Korea and Nao Kodaira of Japan, Do said it was a moving moment that epitomizes what the Olympics are all about.
In the women’s speed skating 500-meter race, two-time Olympic gold medalist Lee claimed the silver medal after losing to the Japanese skater.
Acknowledging that she came in second, Lee burst into tears and her tears didn’t stop even when the spectators that packed the oval kept chanting her name loudly. Watching her crying, the winner Kodaira embraced her to console her.
“Watching them hug, I thought this was that type of moment that only sports can provide,” said Do.
Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) President Lee Kee-heung also appreciated the athletes.
“With the joint Korean women’s ice hockey team and the two Koreas joint parade at the opening ceremony, we caught the eyes of the world,” Lee said. “We earned a record 17 medals from six sports and delivered solid results at the PyeongChang Olympics.”
After the ceremony, the athletes took a photo all together, had lunch and went back to their homes.
Besides the athletes who put forth their best efforts, the volunteers were the hidden stars of the Olympic Games helping the events go smoothly.
The 17,500 volunteers, dubbed the “Passion Crew,” have been praised highly from the international media as well.
Calling them “the unofficial stars of the Games,” BBC reported Sunday the PyeongChang volunteers have been on another level compared to other mega sporting events.
“They may have been given an official — and somewhat unfortunate — title, ‘Passion Crew,’ but they have lived up to that enthusiastic billing with constant energy and countless ‘Gangnam Style’ dance renditions.
Friendly, phenomenally good at English and always smiling, they helped lift the spirits of the athletes, coaches, media and spectators during the most brutal sub-zero temperatures in South Korea,” the U.K. broadcaster reported.