Teenage shooting star faced a difficult path to gold medals
He briefly celebrated with his mother and older sister at the Ongnyeon International Shooting Range, and since his father wasn’t there he vowed to go see him the next day.
“Hey Dad, do you see this? This is the gold medal that I promised to win,” the 17-year-old shooter told his father, who is buried at a cemetery in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, yesterday. “I wish you were alive so you can see and touch this, but I’m happy that I was able to keep my promise to you.”
He then placed a cup of soju on the tombstone - his father used to like it - and sat in front of the grave for half an hour in silence. Kim Joo-hoon passed away three years ago due to medical malpractice.
“My father was once a promising taekwondo athlete and had a chance to compete in the Olympics, but he gave up his career because losing weight ahead of a competition was too painful for him,” said Kim Da-jung, Cheong-yong’s sister. “But since my brother wanted to be an athlete so much, he recommended a sport that doesn’t have as much pain. That’s how he started shooting.”
The first sport Kim tried during middle school in Cheongju was fencing, but his father asked the coach if there was a shooting team because he thought Kim’s calm demeanor would better fit with the sport. The coach said Kim should transfer schools.
On the day he bought his new school uniform, Kim was all smiles and promised his family that one day, he would bring home a gold medal. But a week later, his father wouldn’t be around anymore to share the moment with him.
Kim’s mother and sister were shocked by his sudden death and Choeng-yong tried to comfort them. “Don’t worry, I will take care of all of us, so please hang in there until I grow up,” his sister recalled him saying.
“He was only 14 at the time,” she said. “Since our father’s death, he has changed a lot ... He was feeling heavy responsibility because he thought he would be the breadwinner. He tried to focus on improving his skills in shooting and never complained about anything.”
But the sudden loss of their only income was difficult for the family. Kim’s sister decided not to go to a college and started working to help her mother financially.
“I ran a tteokbokki [rice cakes in a red pepper sauce] restaurant ... near his school, so I felt a bit sorry for him because I thought he might not like seeing his mother selling food to his school mates,” his mother Oh Se-myung remembered.
“I never thought about that,” Kim said, laughing. “I knew how hard she worked every day. I always felt sorry because I couldn’t help her much.”
Kim said he would never forget the moment he won his first gold medal in a local competition because it was the first time that his mother had really smiled since her husband’s death.
“I wanted to see that smile again and again, so I desperately tried to win more gold medals at every event I competed in,” he said. “I think the Asian Games is a new beginning for me. I will try to be a competitive player as long as I can to make my family happier.”
BY KWON SANG-SOO, PARK RIN [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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