Love for younger brother ends in deathKim Jong-soo is 16 years old. He loved wrestling. He loved his brother. He loved both so much that he gave up soccer and began to wrestle like his older brother, Jong-doo, who participated in the sport at Jeonbuk Sports High School. Jong-soo, a middle school senior, hoped to play next year at his brother’s school.
His brother was on a roll, clinching a bronze and two gold medals at national competitions as the representative for North Jeolla province.
Jong-soo had a plan. One day he would pin the taegeukgi, the national flag, on his chest. One day he would bring home the gold medal and make his parents proud. Then he’d be famous like Shim Kwon-ho, the country’s most celebrated wrestler, who won a gold medal at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. Not anymore.
Jong-doo died on Oct. 12 while preparing for a competition in the 46-kilogram (101 pound) Greco-Roman style wrestling event, a class that was well below his weight of around 56 kilograms.
“I hate wrestling. It took away my brother,” says Jong-soo, his voice trembling. Like many wrestlers, Jong-doo was battling his weight. He had slimmed down, but five kilograms still stood between him and the event. He fought a hard battle until he decided to escape from school.
What a burden young Jong-doo must have felt. But the burden he carried was heavier than dropping weight to be eligible for competition. It was much bigger than that.
According to his family, school officials had hinted that if Jong-doo didn’t come back he might be booted from school, and his younger brother’s chances of being accepted to the school would be slim. It’s something the school denies.
“I am doing it for you, brother. So you must be strong too.” That’s what Jong-doo told his younger brother when asked why he was enduring so much pain. Jong-doo collapsed while running on the track at his younger brother’s school. Two days later, he died of shock caused by dehydration.
Two of Jong-doo’s friends have said they saw him tied to a bicycle like a cow, running around the school yard. Another person said that Jong-doo once came to her house asking to be hidden. She was a complete stranger who just happened to live near the school. Hidden from what? “He never said. But he said it was just too painful to lose weight.”
Jong-doo’s coach has repeatedly apologized to his family. “Sorry for what? I want the truth,” says Lee Jeong-seung, Jong-doo’s father. Nowadays, the coach calls Jong-doo’s mother in the dead of night, yelling that he has done nothing wrong. Often, he sounds drunk.
Besides limiting Jong-doo’s food intake, the coach may have also beaten the boy. But it’s hard to get anyone to talk about it. Joong-doo’s father has tried, but in vain.
“His friends who came to our house every day won’t talk to me anymore,” he says. It must be tough on Jong-doo’s classmates; they see the coach every day. The family has filed a lawsuit against the school and is distributing fliers hoping that someone, anyone, will tell them something.
Officials are considering a rule to limit a teenage wrestler’s weight loss before competition to three or four kilograms. But that comes too late for Jong-doo. State championship? It means so much for some. But it should never come to this. It’s not worth a damn thing.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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