At Asian Games Incheon, Korea really had a ball
But while players usually hang medals around their necks and stand in the spotlight, this time it was the U-23 men’s football coach, Lee Kwang-jong, 50, who received most of the recognition. On Thursday, the South Korean football team took gold with defender Rim Chang-woo’s goal in the final minute of extra time. The U-23 team, considered to be the weakest in recent years, was undefeated in seven matches en route to the gold.
Lee, who began his career by coaching the U-15 national football team in 2002, has a knack for molding individuals into a team with his strong charisma. Some say he will make a strong candidate to coach the national team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I haven’t thought about managing the team for the Olympics yet,” said Lee. “I want to rest now.”
For the team’s victory over Japan in the semifinals, he is praised as “football’s Yi Sun-sin,” after the admiral who defeated Japanese naval forces in the Imjin War during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
South Korea also brought home gold medals in both men’s and women’s basketball. The men’s gold medal also exempted “Big Man” Oh Se-keun from his military service. The 27-year-old was the rookie of the year in the 2011-12 season, leading his Korea Ginseng Corporation team to a championship.
But he often suffered ankle injuries and finally joined the Army in April. Those who serve their compulsory military service always dream of an early discharge; for Oh, that dream will now become reality. He finishes his military service this week thanks to the gold medal he earned Friday.
The men’s baseball team won gold on Sept. 28, coming from behind in the eighth inning to beat Taiwan, 6-3. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Samsung Lions pitcher An Ji-man, 31, went into the game with Korea trailing 3-2, runners on first and third, and no outs. An managed to get out of the jam without allowing Taiwan to score.
After tossing Manager Ryu Joong-il into the air, players then tossed An. “An did a great job, and that allowed us to win,” said Ryu after the match.
In women’s volleyball, key players of rivals China and Japan were competing in the Women’s World Championship held simultaneously in Italy, and that proved to be a golden opportunity for South Korea.
Such high expectations were a huge burden for Kim Yeon-koung, 26, of the Turkish volleyball club Fenerbahce. The 26-year-old leader and the team’s main spiker, however, scored about 20 points in every match. She once retired the team provisionally due to the ordeal of moving to the Turkish club.
The Asiad was also a chance for the women’s volleyball team to be reorganized around Kim. Some veterans in their 30s have left the team, but the vacancies were filled by Kim Hee-jin, 23, Park Jeong-ah, 21, and 18-year-old twins Lee Jae-yeong and Lee Dae-yeong. Given that eight of the 12 members of the current team are in their 20s, the team now turns its attention to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“This is my first gold medal in three Asian Games,” said Kim Yeon-koung. “I want to get another one in Rio, too.”
BY KIM SIK, KIM JI-HAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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