From hunger to enjoying sports
I read an online report on the prices of training equipment for each discipline of the Olympic Games. It costs 1.5 to 2 billion won ($1.3 to $1.8 million) for equestrian events and sailing equipment requires about 50 million won. The bicycle needed for the Olympic cycling events costs 20 million won. The total cost of the equipment and material for fencing - where Korean athletes won two gold, one silver and three bronze medals - was about 3 million won, including a mask, uniform, shoes and blade, which goes for as much as 1.2 million won. And the blade has to be replaced once or twice a month.
The least expensive sports were judo and wrestling. Two judo uniforms are 400,000 won and competitors are barefoot. The uniform and shoes for wrestlers cost about 200,000 won.
American business magazine Forbes analyzed the investment made for the athletes competing in the Olympic Games. A fencer competing in London had spent about $20,000 a year. An American family supporting a gymnast has to spend $10,000 per month for training and transportation. The magazine suggests that changing the discipline and joining a handball or crew team would drastically lessen the financial burden for the family.
Prior to 2008 in Beijing and 2010 in Vancouver, Korea had a total of 91 gold medals in summer and winter Olympic Games. And the total has exceeded 100 with more gold medals won in London. However, until the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Korean athletes were mostly successful in disciplines that require minimal investment. Wrestling, boxing, weight lifting and judo were sports of strength, fighting spirit and tenacity.
At the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Korea was under the rule of imperial Japan. Sohn Kee-chung won a gold medal and Nam Sung-yong bronze in marathon, an event that requires very little equipment. It was no coincidence. The country was so poor that no other sports could be promoted. Without a proper pool, swimmers could not train for international events.
The medals won in London prove that Korea has evolved from poor men’s sports to leisure sports. Korean shooters won three gold medals. In the past, shooting was dominated by the military, and Cha Yeong-cheol, who won the first medal in shooting in 1988, was a warrant officer of the Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps. But when shooting sports became available to civilians, talented shooters like Jin Jong-oh and Kim Jang-me became the best in the world.
Korea has become prosperous. Young athletes are not just determined and tenacious, they are enjoying the sports. The ice skaters have shown how cheerful and brilliant they are in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The athletes are not trying to escape hunger but are enjoying the sports. The sports in Korea have become energetic and cheerful.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun