DPRK’s Kim Sung-yong lives up to sports heritage

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DPRK’s Kim Sung-yong lives up to sports heritage

Jong Tae-se is the most prominent Korean-Japanese player on the North Korean national football team, but the team recently added another Japan-based forward in Kim Sung-yong.

Kim is coming off a rookie season with the J-League’s Kyoto Purple Sanga, for whom he scored two goals in 16 matches. But he is better known among Koreans in Japan - zainichi, they are called there - as the son of former North Korean national team member and current assistant coach Kim Kwang-ho.

Like his father, Kim Sung-yong is making his mark on the North Korean national team, which he recently joined. The 23-year-old will compete in the AFC Challenge Cup in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 16-27. At 186 centimeters (6-foot-1) and 77 kilograms (170 pounds), he has the tools to succeed.

Kim is being tabbed as the next Jong Tae-se, a third-generation Korean-Japanese born in Nagoya to a South Korean mother and a North Korean father. The similarities between the two forwards is not limited to their skills on the field. Kim is three years Jong’s junior, and they both attended Korea University in Tokyo. Although Japan does not formally recognize North Korea as a regime, Korean descendants in Japan still loyal to the North Korean regime are allowed to declare themselves nationals of Chosun.

North Korea has also called in Ryang Yong-gi of Velgatta Sendai for the Challenge Cup. “The North Korean national team is attempting to enlarge their roster pool as they prepare for the World Cup,” said Kim Myung-wook, a Korean-Japanese freelance journalist and expert on North Korean football. “Ryang played a significant role in Sendai’s promotion to the J-League and Kim’s potential was recognized by the North Korean national team coaching staff last season.”

Kim has a lot to live up to, as his father became the first zainichi to earn a spot on the North Korean national team in 1980. He was also a member of the Chaeil Chosun Football Club, an amateur club of ethnic Koreans in Japan during the 1970s and ’80s.

“At the time, Japan’s top football league was JSL, a semi-professional league. Since Chaeil was an amateur club, we could not compete in the JSL. But we regularly got requests from the JSL champs for friendly games,” said the elder Kim. “In each of the friendly matches, we won by large margins. We were recognized at the time as one of the best teams in the country.”

After his playing career, the elder Kim managed the Korea University football program for five years starting in 2001. During his tenure, he coached Jong, who currently plays for Kawasaki Frontale. After his stint there, Kim was hired to manage a second-tier club, Arte Takasaki of Japan Football League, in 2006. He stepped down a few months in to join the North Korean national team, and for his efforts in helping the team reach the World Cup finals for the first time in 44 years, the elder Kim - along with Jong and manager Kim Jong-hun - was awarded the honorary titles of “people’s athlete” or “merited athlete” last year.

By Jang Chi-hyeok, Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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