After a trying year, MVP awards for Kim Young-okWhen the Most Valuable Player was announced at the 2005 Women’s Pro Basketball Championship final on March 16, a tearful Kim Young-ok, 31, approached the podium to receive the trophy. In the stands at the Jangchung Stadium in central Seoul sat a man, also wiping tears from his eyes ― it was her husband, Jeong Gyeong-mo, 35.
On that day, Ms. Kim’s team, Woori Bank, won its third pro basketball league title as well as the championship by beating Samsung Life Insurance three games to one.
She won an MVP award for the championship game and another for the league as well.
In addition, Woori Bank defeated Chanson of Japan in the Korea-Japan W-League Championship held last Wednesday and Saturday, winning 84-66 in the first game in Seoul, and 72-58 in the second, held in Tokyo.
Ms. Kim and her husband spent time together on March 17 for the first time in 79 days, at the Dreamland amusement park near the basketball team’s lodgings in Jangwi-dong, Seoul. During the season, they saw each other only once, on Lunar New Year’s Day.
“It was the most difficult time, but it was also the most satisfying at the same time,” she said.
There were many changes for Ms. Kim this season. Her old team’s former sponsor, Hyundai Engineering & Construction, sold the team last year and the new owners, Shinhan Bank, traded her to Woori Bank.
Before leaving, Ms. Kim treated the younger players to dinner, saying, “We live together and we die together.”
She was over 30, and tough training awaited her at Woori. Former national track and field coach Lee Joon had the players run back-to-back relays to increase their speed. Ms. Kim also did duck walks with sandbags tied on her legs.
She also changed her position from shooting guard to point guard.
Mr. Jeong has an easygoing look, but he is actually a martial arts master ― fourth dan in taekwondo and hapkido, as well as performing other martial arts.
He is also something of an all-around sportsman, having played baseball at Boseong High School and having studied hapkido at Yongin University.
After graduating from college, he worked as a golf instructor. When they first met, they did not know they were dating athletes.
“I first met her in 2001 at a friendly gathering,” Mr. Jeong said. “She was gentle and mild. I asked her what she did for a living, and she answered, ‘I work for a construction firm’ (Hyundai Engineering & Construction). Later I found out she was a basketball player.”
They tied the knot in March 2003. “My husband always cares about me, but I can’t fulfill my duty as a wife,” Ms. Kim said. “I feel grateful, and sorry, about that.”
Born in Chuncheon, Gangwon province, Ms. Kim was a track and field athlete in primary school before switching to basketball when she was in the fifth grade.
She was small but fast and her shooting ability was exceptional ― she is 1.68 meters (5 feet, 5 inches) tall and weighs 52 kilograms (114 pounds).
When the Women’s Pro Basketball League was founded in 1997, she was called “Miss Bullet.”
Playing for Hyundai, she was somewhat overshadowed by her colleague Jeon Ju-won, 33. However, thanks to Ms. Jeon’s sharp passing, she became successful as a shooter. They are still like sisters and in November 2004 they opened a sushi restaurant, “Sushiharu,” together
Ms. Jeon, currently pregnant, plans to return to the basketball court as a player after having her baby. Ms. Kim said, “I am afraid that it will be too hard for her.” She is also worried that someday she might become pregnant and have to stop playing. Her coaches are also concerned. When Ms. Kim goes out, coach Park Myeong-su often jokingly tells her, “Do nothing else but dine.”
The season ended, but Ms. Kim was unable to rest because of the championship games with Chanson.
Next on the agenda is a team trip to the Philippines. In between, she plans to visit her mother-in-law and will appear on TV.
by Jeong Young-jae
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