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Tearful S. Korean Olympic champion skater retires

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Seoul (AFP)

South Korea's double Olympic speed skating champion and reigning world record holder Lee Sang-hwa wept Thursday as she announced a knee injury was forcing her to hang up her skates.

Lee took gold in the 500m at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010 and repeated the feat four years later in Sochi.

While speed skating and its spectacular cousin short-track are hugely popular in the country, her Vancouver title made her the first South Korean woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal of any colour.

A specialist at the distance, the world record of 36.36 seconds she set at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup in Salt Lake City in 2013 still stands today.

But the 30-year-old said she had failed to recover sufficiently from a knee injury and was retiring from competitive skating.

"I felt it will take a long time to recover... and that it will be best if I retire now," she said, weeping before dozens of television cameras.

Lee was "interested" in moving into coaching, she said, and would seek to maintain speed skating's popularity in the country.

But first, she would take some much-needed rest after a lifetime of competition, she added.

"I've been racing since grade one until now," Lee said. "I don't want to compete with others. I want to live a relaxing life without competition."

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