Foreign athletes train in countryside

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Foreign athletes train in countryside

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Libyan junior table tennis players pose for a group photograph while on a break at a sports center in Danyang, North Chungcheong, last Saturday. By Kim Seong-tae

Rural areas in Korea are increasingly becoming places where foreign sports teams come to train in the off-season, thanks in part to planning by the central and local governments looking to boost the countryside’s economy during its slow seasons.

Currently, the Libyan junior table tennis national team is in the midst of a 45-day training program at the Culture and Sports Center in Danyang County, North Chungcheong, which started on Dec. 28 under the instruction of Lee Ki-woong, 49, a Korean coach.

“Korea has a remarkable training system, beginning in elementary school, and players are mentally strong,” says Adel, a Libyan coach who came with the junior team. “After going through the tough training with the Korean instructors, our team will get a satisfactory result.”

The youth team members train about 10 hours a day. “I have never experienced such tough training,” said Ziad, a 17-year-old athlete on the Libyan team. “I think this is why Korean players do so well in international competitions.”

Danyang is a popular training location, not just for foreign teams, but Korean teams, too. Its four sports facilities are available for free, and other related facilities, such as a swimming pool and fitness centers, are located nearby.

For the Libyan team of 20 people, accommodations, meals and other services bring their bill for the 45 days to 150 million won, or $138,500.

More than 200 athletes have been trained in Danyang, including the table tennis team from Shandong, China, which was there from Jan. 12 to Jan. 28.

The Danyang County Government signed an agreement with the Korea Table Tennis Association last April, renting out its sports center for 20 million won per year, and the association sends trainees to the county.

“The economic condition was strained during the winter off-season in Danyang,” said Kim Dong-sung, the head of Danyang County. “Foreign teams coming here for training has boosted the economy and promoted it at the same time.”

Hwasun County in South Jeolla is the hometown of Lee Yong-dae, the badminton player who won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. It is also the temporary home of the national junior badminton teams of New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Some 50 players are exercising with the Korean youth team, which has swept the international junior competitions for the last three years.

Although Hwasun has held international badminton competitions before, this is the first time that foreign teams have visited the county for training. The trainees can all find partners there because the county has six student teams and one professional team.

“The training of foreign teams in Hwasun is a symbolic case, where the local government has achieved economic success by using its famous local athlete, Lee Yong-dae,” said Oh Il-young, a professor in the Sports Business Department of Sangmyung University. “Sports marketing not only helps the local economy, but also significantly improves the brand value of the nation.”


BY SHIN JIN-HO AND CHOI KYUNG-HO [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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