Will they fly in the Year of the Dragon?

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Will they fly in the Year of the Dragon?

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For athletes who are born in the Year of the Dragon, they must be hoping to mark 2012 as one of their successful years. Just as a dragon ascends to the sky, athletes hope their sports careers will rise as well. While there are many athletes born under the dragon, I want to focus on a comeback story this year from two sports stars: pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun and footballer Lee Chung-yong.

Both sportsmen pop into my head because Kim and Lee are connected to dragons not only by their birth year. As both hit bottom with their careers last year due to injuries, I assume these two young dragons must be definitely waiting for a successful comeback this year as much as anyone else.

Kim, born on July 22, 1988, is a starter for the Incheon SK Wyverns. (That’s right. His team name - a Wyvern is a winged drago - already suggests that this southpaw should do something this year.) Baseball pundits have claimed many times he is one of the three top pitchers in the Korea Baseball Organization.

But last year, everything went wrong for Kim as a shoulder injury bothered him throughout the season. In addition, there was even a media report that he had a stroke. Not surprisingly, his last season was the worst of his career, posting a 4-6 win-and-loss record in just 17 games with a 4.84 ERA. As a result, his salary for this year was even cut 7.4 percent from last year’s 270 million won ($235,000).

Those setbacks have probably sparked Kim to fight back for his reputation harder, and that’s why I’m thinking he will be the one to watch this season, if the Year of the Dragon gives him energy.

In fact, history shows Kim has had especially good performances in years with even numbers. In 2008, he topped in wins (16) and strikeouts (150) while helping Korea to win the gold medal in the Olympics. In 2010, he was once again the best pitcher in wins (17), while taking second place in ERA (2.37) and strikeouts (183). In 2009, Kim ended up the league leader in ERA and winning percentage, but he was forced to end the season in August with a wrist injury.

While Kim tries to soar like his club’s mascot this year, for Bolton Wanderers midfielder Lee, this is the year he to live up to his nickname “Blue Dragon,” which is a transliteration of his given name, Chung-yong.

Lee’s first half of last year was going well, but a preseason friendly against Newport County in July ruined his remainder of 2011. He suffered a broken right leg after a challenge from Tom Miller, and it was reported that he needs at least nine months for a full recovery.

However, good news came this year that Lee, born on July 2 1988, could be making his comeback probably in late February or March as his recovery goes faster than usual. Now some people are joking that he can recover faster this year because he is getting energy from the Year of the Dragon.

For Lee, big tasks are waiting for him when he returns. As a national team member, Lee needs to help Korea get through the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and as a Bolton player, he has to put forth his best effort to save the club from relegation. Bolton currently sits last in the EPL table.

It will not be easy for Lee to perform at a high level after a long absence from the pitch, but just playing football again is the news that probably most football fans want to hear in 2012.

But one thing still bothers me about Lee’s comeback. This year is specifically called the Year of Black Dragon. Does this mean the “Blue Dragon” has no chance to rise? Well, I hope not.

*From 2012, the Korea JoongAng Daily is introducing the sports column “The Kick,” written by Joo Kyung-don, a sports reporter. It will run every Wednesday.


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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