Five major competitions into the 2022-2023 speed skating season, South Korean sprinter Kim Min-sun has gone a perfect 5-for-5 in the women's 500 meters, winning all of those races by a comfortable margin.
This has been just the type of breakout campaign long expected of the 23-year-old, who won the 500m gold at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics but fell short of hype at her first two regular Olympics in 2018 and 2022.
Kim opened her International Skating Union World Cup season with a victory in Stavanger, Norway, on Nov. 11, with a time of 37.55 seconds.
Nine days later in the Dutch city of Heerenveen, Kim grabbed her second straight World Cup title in 37.21 seconds.
She flew to Canada for her next three races. The first stop was Quebec City, where she won the Four Continents Speed Skating title in 38.141 seconds on Dec. 2.
Kim then traveled west to Calgary for the third leg of the World Cup season. At Calgary Olympic Oval, Kim stretched her winning streak in the 500m with a personal best time of 36.97 seconds on Dec. 9.
Back on the same Calgary ice Friday for the fourth World Cup competition, Kim established a new personal best with 36.96 seconds.
With two competitions left, Kim now leads the World Cup standings with 240 points, with each victory worth 60 points. Jutta Leerdam of the Netherlands is in second place with 190 points.
It was Kim's most impressive victory of the season to date, not just because of her winning time, but the level of competition she beat for the gold.
Finishing behind Kim on Friday were two of the three medalists from Beijing 2022: silver medalist Miho Takagi of Japan ended 0.30 second back of Kim for second place Friday, while the reigning Olympic champion, Erin Jackson of the United States, took third place at 0.39 second behind the South Korean.
That 0.30 second margin of victory for Kim is nothing to scoff at in the shortest race in speed skating. To wit: the top five skaters in the women's 500m at the Beijing Winter Games were within 0.30 second.
She dusted the competition in the first World Cup race this season, winning it by 0.51 second. Her average margin of victory at four World Cups and one Four Continents competition has been about 0.35 second.
Kim is closing in on the world record of 36.36 seconds held by her mentor, two-time Olympic champion Lee Sang-hwa.
Lee won back-to-back gold medals in 2010 and 2014, and retired about a year after winning silver in 2018. She also picked up three gold medals at the World Single Distances Championships and one gold medal at the World Sprint Championships during her illustrious career.
When Kim first served notice with her 2016 Winter Youth Olympic gold, she was quickly dubbed the "Next Lee Sang-hwa." At PyeongChang 2018, Kim tied for 16th at 38.534 seconds, a result that wasn't entirely disappointing considering Kim was still only 18 at the time and she competed through back pains so severe she needed a cortisone shot.
In Beijing earlier this year, Kim checked in at seventh place at 37.6 seconds, despite some confident declaration earlier that she was ready to challenge for a place on the podium.
Less than a year later, though, Kim is finally living up to her potential.
"I've long dreamed of winning a World Cup race," Kim said after arriving home on Nov. 22, fresh off her first two World Cup titles in Europe. "Winning the first one was a confidence boost, and I was able to build off of that in the next race."
Kim said she met Lee in a dream before the first World Cup and added, "She's been very supportive, and it was nice to win one for her."
"By winning these two races, I learned how to handle the pressure of being in the lead," Kim said. "I know I have to continue to deal with a great amount of pressure going forward, and this was a valuable learning experience."
The World Cup season resumes with two consecutive races in February in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland. Then from March 2 to 5, Heerenveen will host the world championships. (Yonhap)