(Reuters) - Four-time world champion speed skater Lee Kyou-hyuk’s pursuit of an elusive Olympic medal was the motivation that kept him in the sport for so long, the Korean said as he bid a formal and emotional farewell on Monday.
The 36-year-old had announced his retirement in February after failing to win a medal at the Sochi Games, his sixth Winter Olympics.
Flanked by family, fellow athletes and Korean Skating Union (KSU) officials, Lee, who carried the country’s flag in Sochi, said not winning a medal might have been a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve come this far believing winning an Olympic gold would mean everything, but now, I think I am actually lucky not to have won one,” Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency at the formal ceremony in Seoul.
“If I had won a medal some 10, 20 years ago, I don’t think I would have been as grateful as I am today.”
”I was devastated after every Olympics, but I now think that it was all part of my maturing process.
“So after one Olympics, I would work hard for another four years. I may not have a medal to my credit, but I think I’ve gained so much more.”
Lee won four world sprint championships - 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 - and won the 500m world title in 2011.
He started his Olympic career at Lillehammer in 1994 and participated in every Olympic Winter Games since but never won a medal, with his best result a fourth place in the 1,000m at Vancouver in 2010.
Lee said he would just like to spend time with his family in the near future but was open to help the country’s athletes get ready for the next Winter Olympics at home in 2018.
”I would one day like to coach the national team,“ Lee said. ”I’ve just retired and I think I still have some feel for the sport.
“Even if it’s not in any coaching capacity, I’d be willing to do anything to help younger skaters at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.”
Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O'Brien