The Sochi Network

50 to watch: Mo thrives on indifference

Essent ISU Long Track World Cup - Day 3

In the run up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Reuters is highlighting the athletes to watch during the Games.

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Mo Tae-bum's moment in the Vancouver sun was overshadowed by Kim Yuna's record-breaking performance at the 2010 Games, but the South Korean speed skater bears no ill will towards his illustrious compatriot.

In fact, he feels he owes the Olympic figure skating champion a debt of gratitude.

"Some say I'm jealous of Yuna because we both won gold medals at our first Olympics but she got all the spotlight," Mo told Reuters in an interview at the Taeneung National Training Centre, northeastern Seoul.

"But my personality is, I don't like people treating me like a hero just because I have a gold medal around my neck."

While the mothers of other speed skaters, wrapped in heavy blankets and shuttling back and forth to serve coaches hot drinks, complained that the media do not give enough coverage to up-and-coming athletes like their children, Mo said he was happy for Kim to keep the prying eyes of the press off his back.

"Too much attention wreaks havoc on my performance. Indifference helps," he said.

"I should probably thank Yuna," added Mo, flashing his signature shy smile. Mo became South Korea's first Olympic gold medallist in a sport other than short track when he came out of nowhere to win the 500 metres in Vancouver on February 15.

The win was doubly sweet given that he turned 21 that day.

"It was only when I stepped on top of the podium that I realised it was my birthday," said Mo. "It was the best birthday gift I've ever given to myself.

"I thought I would cry my heart out on the podium but strangely, I had a hard time holding back smiles, not tears.

"I wanted to pat myself on the back for not having given the whole thing up."

He chose speedskating at the age of seven simply because he liked the rink better than school, and while his ultimate goal had always been to win Olympic gold, it shocked everyone, even his own family, that he achieved it so quickly and unexpectedly.

"Nobody expected he could win a medal, not to mention a gold," his mother Jeong Young-hwa told Reuters.

"Had I thought there was even the slightest chance I would have flown to Vancouver to see it myself."

In Sochi, Mo's races will take place before his birthday.

He will be trying to defend his 500m title and go one better than the silver he got in the 1,000m in Vancouver.

No longer a dark horse, Mo emphasised his status during the Speed Skating World Cup in Berlin in December, the final rehearsal before the Feb. 7-23 Games.

The 24-year-old edged Dutchman Michel Mulder in the 1,000 and Japan's Joji Kato by two thousandths of a second in the 500.

"I'll either be smiling or crying (on my birthday) but one thing is for sure - since my parents are coming this time I want to take this opportunity to put gold medals around their necks," said Mo.

"It would be the best gift I think I can give them on my birthday to show how appreciative I am of their sacrifice."

About his plans for after the 2014 Winter Olympics, Mo said he was not considering retiring, even if he wins gold again.

"Like Yuna said, I also felt empty after the Vancouver Games," he added. "Winning an Olympic gold medal was the only goal I had been pushing myself harder and harder, both physically and mentally, for and it suddenly disappeared."

Mo said his new target was to break world records.

"Retiring is not an option before I achieve it."