Life in the fast lane for Korean bobsled duoAside from short-track speed skating, Korea has always been pretty weak in winter sports. For instance, the Korean ski-jumping team only has seven members and one slope to practice on.
Conditions for other winter sports aren’t much better. Kang Kwang-bae, 30, and Lee Ki-ro, 28, are Korea’s sole representatives in the bobsled discipline. The duo in late November competed in the European Cup in Winterberg, Germany, as part of a 50-day tour of bobsled events.
Before the race, they honed their skills in the Innsbruck area of Austria. Lacking a coach and any fan base, they practiced alone much of the time. Alas, these preparations did not rake in any medals: In the two-man bobsled event, their time of 1:53:50 placed them 44th out of 47 participating teams.
“When our top speed hit 140 kilometers (87 miles) per hour, the force of the wind blowing in my face was just unbelievable,” said Mr. Kang.
Although the duo are sponsored by the Gangwon authorities, receiving a 15 million won ($12,500) budget and 1-million-won a day bobsled rental, the life of these bobsledders is anything but cushy.
Despite previously representing Korea in the luge discipline at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, no big sponsorships came their way. So Mr. Kang went over to Austria, studying sports marketing at the University of Innsbruck. While there, he also took up the skeleton, a sport similar to bobsledding.
As Gangwon province’s Pyeongchang bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, provincial leaders took the initiative of forming the country’s first bobsled team and selected Mr. Kang as its leader.
He, in turn recruited Mr. Lee, who at the time was working as a part-time fitness instructor. Today, both have their sights fixed on the 2006 Winter Olympics.
With hardly any fans, little financial stability, and the risk of being cut off from the sport just like in 1998, one wonders what benefit they receive from this undertaking.
Mr. Kang answers, “You know, if you live without any challenges when you’re young, it’s no fun. Right now we feel alive.”
The duo certainly brings to mind the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings,” where a Jamaican bobsled team become the unlikely champions. So, there is no telling what might happen to Korea’s one and only bobsled team. But, in the true spirit of sports, they are already champions.
by Kim Jong-moon