Bowed, humbled but ... backHe’s baaack! He had us all worried for a bit but the golden boy of Korean judo is back after an 11-day hiatus. Wang Ki-chun reportedly met national team manager Jung Hoon on Wednesday, got on his knees and asked for a second chance.
The incident is not over yet as the Korean Judo Association must levy a punishment on Wang for his conduct at the club and the manner in which he disappeared, in the process missing the National Athletics Competition in Daejeon last week. However, word coming out of the KJA head office is that its officials are having a tough time determining the penalty for Wang since there is no precedent. I hope it’s a light punishment. He seems genuinely apologetic about what he did and he has suffered. It’s time to let the young man get back to his daily grind.
Considering he started taking on the world’s best judokas at the age of 19, people tend to forget that Wang is still a kid. When it comes down to it, he’s just a 21-year-old junior at university. Think back to when you were that age. People tend to want to drink and the combination of excessive alcohol consumption and clubs can lead to mistakes. Heck, most of us, well past our prime, still make mistakes in a drunken stupor. The point is, it happens. We’re human. We make mistakes.
Wang’s troubles can be traced back to the night of Oct. 17. The 2008 Beijing Olympics sliver medalist and 2007 and 2009 world champion in the 73 kilogram (161 pounds) division had disappeared after an incident in which he got into an altercation with a female patron at a club in Yongin, Gyeonggi and ended up slapping her in the face.
No one can defend Wang for hitting a woman. It was completely wrong and he should be ashamed. But he has to move on. Assault charges were dropped after he reached a settlement with the woman in the incident.
Soon after the incident, Wang retreated in fear and made a statement on his Web site eluding to retirement from the sport and how he was basically done with competing on the mat. He made a mistake but it was hardly the sort of incident that should have led to a retirement or a disappearance. Wang sounded like a young man stressed out and tired from the culmination of years of hard training, competition and the pressure to perform.
The life of a national judo team member is not easy. His daily routine starts at 6 a.m. with a series of sprints around the 400 meter track for an hour and 40 minutes. The daily practice extends to a weight training session followed by skills and free practice session and an hour of repetitive sets of technique. The day finishes at 9 p.m. and all national team members go through this routine six times a week.
The national team manager readily admits that he pushes his athletes hard but is also proud of their physical and mental strength. Most members of the team will attest they are more than accustomed to the harsh training regimen by now while some meekly state they could never get used to such training.
Then there is the pressure of competing in the 73 kilogram, or lightweight, division. It has always been the jewel of the Korean national team. The judokas competing in the division are held in high regard and have in return fared very well in international competitions over the years.
Since Ahn Byeong-keun won the gold at the 1984 Los Angeles summer games, others like current national team manager Jung, Kwak Dae-sung, Lee Won-hee and Wang have come to place in the top ranks in the weight class.
Comparable to the welterweight division in boxing, it’s a division that requires a combination of speed and brute strength. Korea has had its share of success in other weight classes, most notably in the 60 kilogram division.
To limit Korea’s judo to the lightweight division would be unfair to the other world class judokas but experts in the sport agree lightweight is the most suitable for the average Korean physique.
It’s only after a stumble that an athlete shows his true mettle. With at least two more Olympics ahead of him in his young career and hopefully the boozing and carousing around town out of his system, Wang can now focus again on staking a place in the sport as one of its best.
By Jason KIM [email@example.com]