GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korean crowd favorite Lee Seung-hoon stormed to Olympic gold in the men’s mass start race at the Gangneung Oval on Saturday with a perfectly timed breakaway on the final lap.
Lee finished 0.11 seconds ahead of Belgian Bart Swings in the final speed skating race of the Games, with Koen Verweij of the Netherlands winning the bronze medal.
Crossing the line, Lee celebrated with his arms raised, basking in the chants of the packed crowd inside the Oval. He took a slow lap of the track, with compatriot Chung Jae-won holding the newly crowned champion’s arm aloft.
“I felt like crying,” Lee said, before breaking into tears in the mixed zone. “It was so overwhelming and I’ve always dreamed of this moment of crossing the finish line first here at the Pyeongchang Olympics and in the mass start.
“I’m so happy that this became real.”
His victory handed Korea a record 15th medal at their home Winter Olympics, one more than the previous record of 14 the country achieved at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010.
Lee got his tactics spot on in both the final and in his semi-final, which was also held on Saturday.
In the earlier race, he broke away to win the second intermediate sprint and claim five points, all but ensuring his progression and allowing him to coast through the rest of the race and save his legs.
In the final, he was the unexpected beneficiary of the Dutch tactics.
Dutch skater Sven Kramer opened up with two laps remaining in the 16-lap race, pushing up the speed in the peloton and gaining ground on the early pace-setters.
Kramer, a surprise inclusion in the event due to a lack of exposure at the international level, was doing the hard work to give compatriot Verweij a shot at the gold medal but it was Lee who capitalized as Kramer faded.
The 29-year-old, who won gold in the 10,000m at the Vancouver Games in 2010, made his move on the second-last corner and stormed down the back straight before holding off both Swings and Verweij for victory.
He has no plans to stop just yet.
“I’ve been doing this because it’s fun,” Lee said. “From now on I would like to set my goal to the Beijing Olympics and keep enjoying what I do.”
Swings won Belgium’s sixth medal at a Winter Olympics and the country’s first since 1998, when speed skater Bart Veldkamp took bronze in the men’s 5,000m in Nagano.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” he said. “I’ve worked a long time for this. It was the last week so I was nervous.
“In the final everything came good for me but at 700 meters I couldn’t wait anymore. I had to go for it and one guy was faster than me.”
Editing by Clare Fallon