The long and short of it? South Koreans love their speed skating

South Koreans are proud of their short-track speedskating heritage and created an incredible atmosphere at the Gangneung Ice Arena throughout the Winter Olympics. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- South Korean short track speed skaters are not afforded the benefits of a silent, stealthy manoeuvre mid-race. When Minjeong Choi prepared to make her gold-medal winning charge in the women's 1,500 metre final, the crowd started their ear-piercing, roar of anticipation.

Her competitors get immediate warning Choi is on the move, as South Korea president Moon Jae-in watches on.

This is what happens when you are darling of the crowd in the hotbed of short track speed skating. Every move is analysed, collective breath held. "It is a glorious performance in the stadium, it is our home ground so much more meaningful," Choi was to say later after their 3,000 relay triumph.

The short track medal winners are the rock stars of these games. The sport, bonkers as it is, is built on tension, drama and, in South Korea's case, winning. Their Olympics tale reads 21 golds and 42 medals overall since it was formally introduced in 1992 -- 12 medals more than their nearest rivals, China. Six of the 11 records are held by Koreans. Triumph is expected; that is part of the reason why supporters flock to the Gangneung Ice Arena. Success is an expression of national pride, affirmation of their dominance and a chance to see Korean sporting superstars.

The sport was introduced back in 1982, by 1985 they had their first team in the Asian Games and when it got tested at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the Korean government started to invest in the sport ahead of its official introduction in Albertville. They saw it as a chance to corner the medal market. Olympic medals followed, with Kim Ki-hoon winning the first in the men's 1,000 in 1992, and those athletes then stayed within the programme to teach the next generation. Success was breeding success.

"When you ask your teammates what Korea's good at, they say short track. It's down to the success they have."

Suwon FC soccer player Adrian Leijer

"The most important factors behind South Korea's transformation into a sporting powerhouse are the country's large number of sports lovers and efficient investment," reads an article on 'Gateway to Korea'. "The country strives to find promising young athletes, train them efficiently, and help them build their skills by accumulating a wealth of experience in domestic competitions."

During Winter Olympics and World Championships, the sport is at the front of the national consciousness. In between those windows, the stars remain prominent in advertising campaigns but the sport is overtaken. Baseball, volleyball and football are the sports constantly dominating the day-to-day agenda; success is also frequent.

The Korean professional soccer league has two divisions, bringing in crowds of three million on average per year -- baseball enjoys crowds in the region of eight million a season.

"I know the Koreans are very patriotic and the national men's football team has a big following," is the view of Australian soccer international Adrian Leijer, who plays for Suwon FC. "The league itself, the crowd numbers are down a bit on match day but it has quite a big following. There are some good teams, some good players and it's a sport-proud nation."

They are currently in preseason and the Winter Olympics is at the top of their agenda. "The boys get pretty excited when the Koreans are on there. They have a proud history in the short track speed skating. When you ask your teammates what Korea's good at, they say short track. It's down to the success they have.

"All the young Korean kids are watching the Olympics, will probably want to take it up and grow the tradition further. Minjeong Choi is a legend of the country and everyone felt her pain when she made that error [in the 500 final which got her disqualified]. Having experienced the food and the culture it helps me understand the way they train the athlete and that gives me a greater appreciation for what they achieve on the world stage."

Leijer gives an insight into how he has had to adjust to the Korean training methods. They push athletes to their limits, with an emphasis on occasion of "the more training, the better".

In the case of short track, Korean methods are renowned for excellence through repetition and getting every ounce out of the athletes. It can be taken too far. A month before the Games, an instructor was suspended for allegedly assaulting athlete Shim Suk-hee.

The fan culture also can boil over. Athletes from opposing countries have received death threats. Back in 2002 in Salt Lake City when Apolo Anton Ohno won his controversial gold with Kim Dong-sung disqualified for blocking, a manufacturer made three different editions of toilet paper with his face on. The USOC servers also crashed due to the number of emails complaining about Ohno's triumph and the USA team withdrew from the following year's world championship in South Korea through solidarity with Ohno. Later at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the South Koreans paid homage to Kim with their short track celebration after Ahn Jung-whan equalised against the United States.

This Olympics, Canadian Kim Boutin was subject to similar treatment after Choi was disqualified in the 500 final.

"I was pretty shaken after what happened," Boutin said after winning bronze in the 1,500. "I think my team just tried to shield me from everything, but I heard some things and it hurt me a lot."

But they are the benchmark for short track success. Teams draft in Korean coaches; Great Britain have Lee Seung-jae on their staff while Chun Lee Kyung coaches Singapore's Cheyenne Goh. USA's John-Henry Krueger, who won silver in the men's 1,000, trained in Korea focusing on "dynamic training and technique," he explained.

And so far, it has been a tale of Korean dominance and unrivalled national pride. In terms of their nationwide celebrity status, during the competitions they are up there with the likes of Tottenham's Son Heung-min and now tennis player Chung Hyeon. And when they are on the ice, they are at the centre of the nation's sporting attention.