[Newsmaker] Lee Sang-ho: 1st Asian man to win medal in alpine snowboarding

By Yonhap
  • Published : Feb 24, 2018 - 15:27
  • Updated : Feb 24, 2018 - 15:27

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- South Korean alpine snowboarder Lee Sang-ho, who became the first Asian man to win an Olympic medal in an alpine snowboarding event with his silver medal run, is a native of Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, where Olympic alpine skiing speed events were being staged.

He first started snowboarding at a sledding slope that was previously a cabbage patch. This gave him the nickname “Napa Cabbage Boy” after he established himself in the snowboarding scene.

Lee Sang-ho (Yonhap)

Lee, born September 1995, has been a top snowboarding prospect in South Korea, dominating local competitions since middle school.

He made his international debut in 2010. He first made his name internationally in 2013 when he finished 20th in the parallel slalom at the World Snowboard Championships in Canada.

Lee made progress year by year. In 2014, he took silver in the parallel giant slalom at the International Ski Federation Junior World Championships in Italy. At the 2015 junior worlds, he claimed gold in PGS and bronze in parallel slalom.

But for Lee, senior-level competitions proved too difficult early on. It was in 2016 that Lee first cracked the top 10 at an FIS World Cup. Before 2016, Lee‘s best World Cup finish had only been 24th.

With the PyeongChang Winter Olympics a year away, Lee started to establish himself as a medal hope for South Korea. Starting with two gold medals at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Japan last February, Lee became the first South Korean to win a World Cup silver medal in March after finishing second in the PGS event in Turkey. Lee then took another important step by finishing fifth at the World Championships in Spain. 

Lee started this season with a win at the low-tier Europa Cup in Germany but gave inconsistent performances later. His best finish at the FIS World Cup this season came in Rogla, Slovenia, where he took seventh place in the PGS competition.

But at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, he dismissed any doubts in style by taking the silver medal, a historic achievement for South Korea.

Since South Korea first made its Winter Olympics appearance in 1948, all 53 of its medals prior to PyeongChang 2018 had come from ice sports. At the PyeongChang Olympics, world No. 1 skeleton slider Yun Sung-bin delivered South Korea’s first Olympic medal from a non-ice sport.

But if one argues that Yun is also an athlete who technically competes “on the ice” since sliding sports are contested on icy tracks, then Lee should be called the first South Korean athlete who actually won a medal on the snow.

With his silver, Lee is now also the first Asian male alpine snowboarder to stand on the Olympic podium. On the women‘s side, Japan’s Tomoka Takeuchi broke the barrier by taking silver in the women‘s PGS at Sochi 2014.