Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Veteran South Korean skater Lee Seung-hoon became the inaugural Olympic champion in men's mass start speed skating Saturday at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
He made a last-minute spurt to cross the finish line first in the men's mass start final held in the Gangneung Oval. Belgium's Bart Swings won silver and the Netherlands' Koen Verweij won bronze.
Lee, the world No. 1 in the discipline, earned the first gold medal at the mass start, which made its Olympic debut at PyeongChang. It is Lee's second medal at Pyeongchang, following the team pursuit silver, and his fifth Olympic medal.
Lee's signature last minute spurt worked well in the 16-lap race.
He raced with his teenage teammate Chung Jae-won, who skated in the lead group of the 16-man pack as a pacemaker. While Chung led the skaters throughout the race, Lee remained at the tail and bided his time for the spurt.
In the 13th lap, skaters started to speed up and Lee advanced to the top five. In the final lap, his speed outmatched other skaters to take the lead.
He crossed the finish line first and clenched his fists to celebrate his victory. And he patted Chung, who finished eighth, as a token of his gratitude for setting the perfect pace and helping Lee win the title.
"It's a great honor to win the gold medal in the mass start that has become an Olympic medal sport at home," said Lee, who stood on the top of the podium for the first time since he finished first in the 10,000m race in Vancouver 2010. "I've dreamed of crossing the finish line first. I'm so happy that this dream has come true."
He thanked Chung for playing the pacemaking role throughout the race.
"I appreciate Chung for racing with me" he said, glancing at the 16-year old skater. "I'm sure he will become a greater athlete than me."
The 29-year old confirmed again to competing in the next Beijing Winter Olympics.
"I'm not aiming to participate in the Olympics. I will try to be a better skater and have a beautiful finale at Beijing," he said. "I'll keep making efforts to be the hottest skater on the track.
Chung said he was satisfied with the result as he was part of perfect team play in the finals.
"Lee helped me win the medal in the team pursuit. If I can help my teammate win this race, I can celebrate the victory with pleasure," said the youngest speed skater on the Korean team.