First woman takes helm of famed sports centerThe nation’s athletes reportedly have high expectations for the new director of the Taeneung sports park, Elisa Lee, a former table tennis champion and professor at Yongin University.
Ms. Lee, 51, was appointed as the 17th director of the sports complex where 600 athletes train and work with a staff of 68. Prior to her new job, Ms. Lee managed the national table tennis team in 1987 and 1988 and also in 2004 for the Athens Olympic Games. She is the first female to get the top job at the sports park since it opened 40 years ago.
Asked if she obtained her name when she was baptized, Ms. Lee said although she is a Christian, she was given the name by her sisters. Born in 1954, she is the seventh child of three sons and five daughters; her eldest sister is 16 years older than her. Two years before her birth, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain ascended to the throne and when she was born, her sisters wanted to name her after the queen. Her parents happily agreed with the idea, but thought “Lee Elizabeth” was too long and so they abbreviated it to Elisa.
Ms. Lee’s family was relatively well off. Her father, Lee Seung-kyu, was once a deputy mayor of Daejeon. She was a tomboy right from the start, playing marbles and cards with the boys in her neighborhood. She enjoyed sports and was very competitive, but her parents and siblings were against the idea of her pursuing professional sports.
Ms. Lee wanted to play table tennis and came up with a remarkable idea; she sold back marbles she won from playing with other boys and saved enough money to buy a bat. Ms. Lee kept nagging her parents to allow her to play table tennis and joined the Daehung Elementary School table tennis team when she was in her fourth year there.
Ms. Lee entered the sports park as an athlete in 1969 and became a coach and then the center chief there.
When she was a senior at Moonyoung Middle School, Ms. Lee was selected for the national team. Then 19 years old, she won a team medal at the Sarajevo World Table Tennis Championship in 1973 along with Jeong Hyeon-suk and Park Mi-ra. This was the first victory for Korea in table tennis in international competition. In the team competition, she won all 19 matches. Unfortunately, she lost to a Swedish player, but she was ranked second in the world.
Ms. Lee has had a busy schedule following her inauguration with endless meetings and interviews. She has inspected the cafeteria and training facility that she knows probably better than anybody else.
After she became the director, she made two significant changes. She reduced the size of her office in half to make it “less overwhelming” to visitors and began etiquette education for athletes. Ms. Lee has invited professional lecturers to give 90-minute lectures in the morning starting last month. “Here, many people of different ages and backgrounds live together,” she said.
Ms. Lee also said the athletes need to recharge themselves. “I have lived here long enough to know what kind of changes people need here. Most of all, athletes need to modernize their mindsets,” she said.
Athletes are generally happy about the changes.
“She tries to take care of everyone like a mother or elder sister and people have high expectations,” said Kim Jong-deok, a training official.
by Sung Baik-you, Limb Jae-un
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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