[Viewpoint] For Korea, this is the golden ageForty years ago, I was a member of the ice skating team at Sungui Elementary School. Sungui was one of the Big Three ice skating schools, along with Lila Elementary School and Eunseok Elementary School, where Vancouver Winter Olympics speed skating gold medalists Mo Tae-bum and Lee Sang-hwa went. As a boy, I virtually lived in the Taereung Ice Rink during the winter. Even in the summer, I trained at the Dongdaemun Indoor Ice Rink. Thanks to the hard training, I still maintain muscular thighs to date.
One of my teammates was Im Hyeon-suk, who later competed as a member of the National Team. She was a shy girl, but her stamina was superior to any boy’s. The team used to go up and down the stairs of Mount Namsan dozens of times, but she was so strong that the demanding routine never wore her out. She went to Sung-ui Elementary School and Middle School, and by the time she was a junior at Sungui Girls High School, she had won the 500-meter and 1,000-meter events in the National Ice Skating Championship, where the national team for the Winter Olympics was picked. Im was qualified to compete at the 13th Winter Olympics held in Lake Placid, New York, in February 1980, as the youngest speed skater, but the suspicious involvement of the Korea Skating Union frustrated her shot at the Olympics.
Nevertheless, she continued to stay on top in Korea, winning the National Ice Skating Championship in 1981, 500- and 1,000-meter events at the National University Ice Skating Competition in 1982, the 1,000-meter event in 1983, and the 500-meter in 1984. At the end of 1984, she switched to short track and won all four 500-meter, 1,000-meter, 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter events at the first National Short Track Ice Skating Competition.
Im was a woman of determination. She once had an attack of appendicitis, but she did not give up, skating until she collapsed on the ice after she reached the finish line and was rushed to the hospital. Her determination made her the best in the country.
However, even Korea’s best skater was not good enough on the international stage. In 1985, she competed in the Winter Universiade in Belluno, Italy, but she did not win a medal. In March 1986, she participated in the first Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, and had to be satisfied with a bronze medal in the ladies’ 500-meter event.
In the 1980s, no matter how good a Korean competitor was, she or he was nowhere near the international level. Even the team that was considered the best in our history at the time could only covet a medal at the Asian Games.
The Olympics and the international stage were only possible in our dreams.
If any of my fellow skaters had a shot at a gold medal in the Olympics, I would not have given up on skating. So I was truly emotional and overwhelmed when Mo Tae-bum and Lee Sang-hwa sprinted in the 500-meter events and won gold medals at the Vancouver Olympics. I was reminded of the hard training, the inevitable limits we faced and our frustrated dreams. These young skaters accomplished what the older generation had not dared to dream of so smoothly and effortlessly.
The Republic of Korea is truly a nation of surprising strength. Each one of the citizens is rewriting the story of Korea today.
Today’s Korea is no longer the nation that lost its sovereignty and was tormented by national disgrace 100 years ago. It is no longer the country devastated by war 60 years ago. It is not the country that was so determined and driven to make money. Korea and Koreans have surprised the world, surprised ourselves and transcended the boundary of dreams to open up a new world that we have never experienced. You and I are the living witnesses of this amazing era. I am truly blissful and happy to be living in this time along with my fellow Koreans.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong