PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Lee Sang-ho became the first South Korean to win a snowboarding medal when he claimed silver in the parallel giant slalom at the Winter Olympics on Saturday.
Despite never having won a World Cup event, the 22-year-old, who is ranked 10th in the world, was regarded as the host nation’s best medal hope in the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, albeit a slim one.
With thousands of fans packing the stands at Phoenix Snow Park, many of them waving South Korean flags, Lee admitted he had felt the pressure.
“Before I started competition I was quite nervous because this is my first Olympic Games and I also wanted a good result to return the gratitude and thanks that I owe to the people who have supported me,” he told reporters.
If Lee was nervous, he did not show it as he moved through the heats before edging past Slovenia’s Jan Kosir and reaching the final.
With Lee guaranteed a medal, the home crowd went wild, spurring him on in the final against Switzerland’s Nevin Galmarini, who won by 0.43 seconds.
Lee dedicated his silver to the home fans, saying: “I saw the people cheering for me and I think that helped me a lot.
“That is how I got the good result and so I want to thank everyone who has supported me.”
Lee hopes his achievement will encourage more Koreans to take up snowboarding.
“It is great honor to be the first Korean medalist in snowboarding,” he said.
“I wish that with this medal then it could create an opportunity for the Korean government and people to support Alpine snowboarding so we can have more competitive snowboarders in the future.”
Lee certainly inspired the Korean fans frantically craning for a sight of their new hero at the bottom of the run.
“I am so excited,” said one, Kim Min-seo. “I was so worried and then they came down and he has a medal. I didn’t not care about the final, he already had a medal.”
“I have come every day to Phoenix and I never see a Korean win a medal,” added Yi Ji-yoo, a South Korean flag painted on her cheek.
“Now I have and it is the best day, my favorite day.”
Editing by Clare Fallon