S Koreans-speed skating

SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korean speed skaters Lee Sang-hwa and Mo Tae-bum both defended their world single distance titles in Russia on Sunday, becoming the first skaters from the country to win back-to-back world crowns.

In the women's 500 meters at the World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Sochi, Lee took the two-leg final with a combined time of 75.34 seconds. She finished both of her two races in first place.

Wang Beixing of China was a distant second at a combined 76.03 seconds, followed by Olga Fatkulina of Russia at 76.08 seconds.

In the men's 500m, Mo finished his two races in 69.76 seconds, beating out Joji Kato of Japan by 0.06 seconds. Jan Smeekens of the Netherlands ended in third at 69.86 seconds.

Lee Sang-hwa has been the most dominant female skater in the 500m this season, winning 12 out of 14 races and never once missing the podium. In January, she set the world record with 36.80 seconds.

The 24-year-old all but secured the world title after the first leg by finishing first at 37.69 seconds, 0.45 seconds ahead of Fatkulina. Lee didn't let up in her second leg and was actually 0.04 seconds faster than in her first race at 37.65.

Lee, who won the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games gold medal in the 500m, further cemented her status as the early favorite to repeat as the Olympic champion next February in Sochi.

Afterward, Lee said she withdrew from Saturday's 1,000m at the last minute to concentrate on the 500m. But this doesn't mean she will drop the longer distance event from her program entirely.

"If I give up on the 1,000m, then I think it will also have a negative effect on my 500m times," she said. "I will focus more on the 500m than on the 1,000m, but I will continue to race both distances."

As for the success she's enjoyed this season, Lee said the secret has been her ability to "win the mental battle within myself."

Mo, who won silver in the 1,000m on Friday, clawed his way back to snatch the 500m title. He was only third in the first leg at 34.94 seconds, 0.14 seconds behind Smeekens. But in the second leg, Mo was the fastest in the field at 34.82 seconds while Smeekens, skating next to the South Korean, was well back at 35.06 seconds.

Mo was also the 2010 Olympic champion in the 500m. His two-medal performance in Sochi this weekend came as a pleasant surprise. He'd enjoyed only one podium finish in 11 races this season prior to his stop in Sochi.

Mo, who skated after Lee, said afterward he drew extra motivation from his compatriot's championship performance.

"I tried not to do too much and to just focus on my second race," Mo said. "But honestly, my goal here was to finish in third. I never expected to win the gold medal here because I've struggled so much at World Cup events. I am glad I finally got some good results in the final competition of the season.

The championship races by Lee and Mo bode well for South Korea's prospects at the 2014 Winter Games, just under a year away. Both of the skaters said they will try not to put too much pressure on themselves to repeat as Olympic champions and will instead try to stay within themselves.

In March alone, South Korea produced world champions in three different ice events. Before Lee and Mo, Kim Yu-na won the ladies' competition at the World Figure Skating Championships in Canada. Earlier, Sin Da-woon was crowned the men's overall champion at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Hungary.

At the Vancouver Winter Olympics, South Korea captured six gold medals to finish fifth in the medal tables for its best-ever showing at a Winter Games.

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