Skater’s showbiz dream a thin-ice ideaMost people will remember the famous Ohno incident that took place in February 2002 at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Apolo Anton Ohno snagged the gold medal in short track speed skating after officials disqualified Kim Dong-sung, who crossed the line first. The incident catapulted Mr. Kim to fame as an entire nation viewed him as a victim. Mr. Ohno took home the gold but Mr. Kim’s name was engraved into Korea’s collective memory for eternity. That same year, in April, the young Korean skater earned six gold medals at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championship.
He took a leave for almost a year to nurse an injured knee. But this past February, Mr. Kim returned to the public arena at Korea’s National Winter Games, where he won two gold medals in the 500-meter and 1,000-meter races. His success prompted skating officials to issue him a free pass to the national team, without any qualifying rounds. Some frowned at this move, but the skating hierarchy cited Mr. Kim’s youth in calling him an essential member of the 2006 Winter Olympics team.
Despite the free ride, Mr. Kim gave up his spot on the national team just before entering the training facilities in April, only to sign a three-year contract with Atom Entertainment. The talent agency plans to manage Mr. Kim’s career as singer and entertainer.
The contract entitles him to quit at any time, should he take up skating again. Mr. Kim has already been cast as a backup emcee for a TV talk show, even while hinting in an interview of plans to enter next year’s qualifiers for the 2006 Olympics.
If Mr. Kim plays some role in an ice dance theater number, such as “The Nutcracker,” I will understand, and say “go for it.” But the idea of his face on the tube does not thrill me.
Since I am no expert, I asked a talent agent, Park Hun-pyo, what he thought of Mr. Kim’s desire to enter the entertainment biz.
The skater might have a leg up, Mr. Park explained, since his name is known, but his leverage could be short-lived. “The music industry is in shambles,” says Mr. Park. “Even big names such as Kim Geon-mo have problems selling albums. I don’t know what he is thinking, but if I were him I would stay where I am.”
Successful cases of athletes turned entertainers do exist. Kang Ho-dong, a former professional wrestler, became a prime-time TV host, but even Mr. Kang waited until the dusk of his sports career to make the switch.
Sure, Mr. Kim may have a clause in his contract that guarantees he can resume skating any time. But I find it unlikely that after one year of cracking jokes on TV or trying to sing his way up the music charts he can just strap on his skates and fly. His conditioning will have deteriorated. Most likely, he will gasp for air like a fish in a net, and find his legs have turned to pudding.
His first comeback was possible because he did nothing else but rehab his body and think about skating. If he seriously tries to make it in entertainment, he won’t have the time to keep his body fine-tuned.
Kim may become the next hottest music industry star. But I would choose one path to follow rather than try and capture two rabbits at once.
by Brian Lee