PYEONGCHANG • The furore over the two South Korean speed skaters who blamed a team-mate for their failure to reach the semi-finals of the women's team pursuit at the Pyeongchang Olympics reached fever pitch, with a petition calling for their disbarment gathering over 530,000 signatures yesterday.
Kim Bo Reum and Park Ji Woo crossed the line almost four seconds ahead of team-mate, Noh Seon Yeong, in the quarter-finals on Monday.
In the pursuit, the clock only stops when the final skater has crossed the line and teams typically finish with all three skaters bunched together.
TV clips showed Noh in tears on the bench after the race while Kim and Park appeared to ignore her and walked away, with only their Dutch coach, Bob de Jong, offering Noh a shoulder to cry on.
Noh had been hoping to win the gold to honour her late brother, former short-track world champion Jin Kyu, who died of bone cancer in 2016.
While Kim and Park were being interviewed after the race, Noh left the arena and declined to answer questions.
"We were skating well," Kim said. "But the last skater (Noh) couldn't keep up and we had a disappointing score," she said in the post-race interview. Park chimed in, adding they "didn't think this would happen (with Noh)".
The petition was lodged with the South Korean presidential Blue House, and demanded Kim and Park's removal from the national team.
UNFIT TO FLY THE FLAG
It is a clear national disgrace that such people with a personality problem are representing a country in the Olympics.
THE PETITION, which has been lodged with the President's office.
"It is a clear national disgrace that such people with a personality problem are representing a country in the Olympics," read the petition posted on the official website of South Korea's presidential office.
"We are petitioning that Kim Bo Reum and Park Ji Woo forfeit their rights as national athletes and be banned from international competitions including the Olympics."
If a request receives over 200,000 signatures within 30 days, the government must address the issue although it has yet to respond to the unsportsmanlike incident.
"A sportsman who isn't a team player doesn't deserve to be part of the national team," one petitioner wrote. "It's truly a shame to see the athletes bully one another, and they represent Korea," another said.
Public anger has yet to subside despite Kim apologising for her remarks at a tearful news conference on Tuesday.
"I did an interview the previous day, and I apologise for hurting the feelings of many people," she was quoted by the Yonhap News Agency as saying.
"It is my fault that I failed to keep track of team-mates behind me."
She was also forced to shut down her social media profiles as a result of the backlash, said Yonhap.
At the same news conference, team coach Baek Cheol Gi said it was Noh's choice to skate third on the final lap. However, Noh contested that claim in an interview with South Korean broadcaster SBS, saying she never asked to be the third skater and had prepared to be in the middle.
"(The three of us) practised in different places and didn't really have a chance to see each other, let alone talk about the race", she said.
The issue is the latest setback for the Korea Skating Union (KSU), which has been plagued by allegations of favouritism and physical abuse over the years.
It also came under fire ahead of the Games after Noh almost lost her spot due to an "administrative error". The KSU later apologised for the blunder.
Japan dethroned defending champions the Netherlands to claim gold in last night's final. The trio of Miho Takagi, Ayano Sato and Nana Takagi set an Olympic record of 2min 53.89sec.