If skipping class, at least get a little exerciseOn March 1, as 500 inline skaters fought to qualify for Korea’s first international inline competition, Cho Sung-kwan was stuck in traffic ― and furious.
In a sport where milliseconds make the difference between winning and losing, Mr. Cho was hours late ― missing his chance to qualify for the Munhwa Ilbo Seoul World Inline Cup.
It was Mr. Cho’s shot at competing against some of the world’s best inline skaters, including Jessica Smith (United States), Pascal “the Punisher” Briand (France) and Diego “Rocket” Rosero (Colombia).
The 3.7-kilometer qualifying race at Everland Speedway in Yongin, Gyeonggi province, was the last of three preliminary rounds leading up to the April 13 Munhwa Ilbo event by the Jamsil Stadium complex.
In all, 35 amateur racers qualified for the 42-kilometer Munhwa Ilbo race where they faced 70 professional skaters from overseas and 140 pros from Korea.
Since Mr. Cho missed qualifying for the 42-kilometer division, he entered the 20-kilometer division, which along with the 5-kilometer division was an open event. Out of 3,900 skaters, Mr. Cho placed first with a time of 34 minutes, 52 seconds.
Not bad for a 23-year-old Sahm-yook University junior who had been skating for all of 10 months.
Four seconds later, Mr. Cho’s friends Park Jin-hyuk, 21, and Kim Sung-hoon, 16, tied for 13th place.
The trophy, Mr. Cho’s first, sits in the corner of Jufi, an inline skate shop near the Junghwa subway station in northeastern Seoul, where Mr. Cho and his pals gather before working out.
On Sunday, Mr. Cho will compete in another race, a 42-kilometer event in Chuncheon, Gangwon province. Many of Korea’s best inline skaters will be there. Mr. Cho is anxious to prove himself.
Ten months ago, Mr. Cho was cutting class and hanging out at an Internet cafe. He was in cyberspace, in a moo, a text-based virtual world. A friend found him there, and said, “Dude, if you’re going to skip class, at least get some exercise.”
Mr. Cho, who’s majoring in physical therapy, took up inline skating and joined the Inline Kangbuk Club, which boasts 6,200 members. Soon enough, he was hooked.
He worked in a factory last summer and to earn enough money to buy the ultimate pair of skates: Salomon boots, Verducci frames, Minimizer bearings and Hyper wheels costing 1.3 million won ($1,075).
Inline skating is divided into four categories: racing, hockey, fitness and aggressive. Ask any speed skater why he choses racing and the response is invariably the same, “I like going fast.” That’s Mr. Cho’s reason. Speed.
On a recent weekday, Mr. Cho was at the Jungrangcheon track in northeastern Seoul with his buddies, Messrs. Park, Kim and Lee Min-ho, 25. They raced around the track, chins up, bent low, one behind another, close enough to touch the person immediately in front.
Mr. Cho, lean and nimble, led the pack for 30 minutes until they took a break for water. After dinner, they headed to Olympic Park in southeastern Seoul for another practice round.
Mr. Park will be racing with Mr. Cho on Sunday. Mr. Kim won’t, he says sadly, because he has to study for an exam. Mr. Lee, who helped found the Kangbuk club five years ago, will be watching.
Mr. Lee wants his friends to do as well as the Seondo Group, which Mr. Kim says has Korea’s best amateur skaters.
Will they beat the Seondo crew? Mr. Kim frowns and Mr. Cho says, “We’ll be happy to hang with them.”
Mr. Cho wants to place in the top 10. He says his April 13 win was the result of luck and skill. He admits that taking first place with just 10 months invested in the sport is pretty rare, but “some people are born with the skills.”
Mr. Cho is thankful that, however belatedly, he’s realizing his potential. As the saying goes, better late than never.
Unless you’re trying to make it to the big race.
by Joe Yong-hee