Taebaek seen not viable as altitude training centerIn Taebaek, Gangwon province, there is a sports park for altitude training, an adjunct to Taereung sports park in northeastern Seoul. The park opened in 1998, but athletes in various sports train elsewhere, such as China, the United States and Mexico, to increase their heart and lung endurance.
Taereung is on the verge of closing due to insufficient funding, but athletes have been spending over 1 billion won ($1 million) abroad every year for altitude training.
In April, 20 members of the national swimming team stayed in Kunming, China, which is 1,880 meters (6,167 feet) above sea level, for three weeks. “Three of those who trained in Kunming produced Korean records in May. They plan to return to Kunming this fall,” said Jeong Bu-jin, an employee of the Korea Swimming Federation.
Samsung Electronics’ track and field team and coaches also trained in Kunming in preparation for the 2005 Summer Universiade in Izmir, Turkey, and the World Athletics Championship in Helsinki, Finland. This was the second session of training since last year.
“It has been very effective,” said Samsung coach Oh In-hwan. “After the training, Huh Jang-kyu produced his best performance ever ― 13 minutes, 52 seconds in the 5,000 meters ― early this year, and Lee Eun-jung set a series of national records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.”
“To be blunt, the Taebaek Sports Park is a failure,” said Hwang Gyu-hun, an executive at the Korea Athletic Federation. “They built a small track and field and a physical training facility at a level that is not high enough, and it also lacks other facilities.”
On land measuring 3.2 square kilometers, there is a four-lane track, a small indoor gym, a physical training room and lodging for up to 50 people. A standard track and field stadium normally has eight lanes, but the Taebaek sports park was built on a sloped area on the outskirts of Mount Hambaek and ended up with only four lanes.
The indoor gym is also smaller than one nearby. Oh Seung-hun, a deputy director of the Taebaek Sports Park, said, “The athletes do only stretching [inside the gym] before going on to physical training.”
The Korea Sports Council repeatedly asked for an indoor stadium, which is expected to cost 10 billion won, but “there is no budget and so now we have given up,” said Kim Yong, an official at the Korea Sports Council.
“The land should be at least 1,800 meters above sea level to be effective for high altitude training, but the Taebaek Sports Park is only 1,330 meters above sea level,” Samsung’s Mr. Oh noted.
Jeong Dong-sik, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Sports Science, has a similar view, saying, “Being 1,300 meters above sea level is not ineffective, but for better results it needs to be 1,700 meters to 2,500 meters above sea level.”
For sports like boxing, the effects seem beneficial. “After training at Taebaek, boxers show better movements,” said Oh In-seok, the coach for the national team.
“There is no research data about the amount of oxygen intake needed according to different altitudes,” Mr. Jeong said. “But there would be little benefit for long-distance track and field sports, cycling and swimming, which have a high oxygen demand.”
The Taebaek Sports Park was built following calls for high altitude training facilities after Hwang Young-jo won a gold medal in the marathon at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992.
Athletes on the national team did not frequently use the facility, however, although other athletes or those in sports that do not require high altitude training came to use it more often.
As the park was not popular, it was opened to teams other than the national team in 2003. The park charges 21,000 won per day for meals and 5,000 won for utilities. The Korea Sports Council initially planned to build the park in Kunming, but chairman Kim Un-yong rejected the idea, according to council officials.
Mr. Kim said he wanted the facility built in Korea although it would be less effective.
“We considered Mount Halla, Mount Jiri and Mount Hambaek in the beginning, but Mount Halla and Mount Jiri were national parks and no longer options,” said Oh Jin-hak, a former council official.
It cost 44 billion won to build the Taebaek Sports Park. A total of 10 persons work at the park and the annual budget is 319 million won this year.
by Shin Dong-hae