Former weightlifter Kim Byeong-chan dies at 46

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Former weightlifter Kim Byeong-chan dies at 46

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Gold medal-winning weight lifting champion Kim Byeong-chan was found dead at his home on Friday in Chuncheon, Gangwon. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Kim Byeong-chan, a gold medal-winning weight lifting superstar in the early 1990s, was found dead at his home on Friday, authorities said. He was 46.

Officials at the Chuncheon Police Precinct in Gangwon said that the former athlete, who had lived alone after his mother passed away in 2013, was discovered in his home by a neighbor who came by to visit.

The cause of death was not disclosed, though the weightlifter was known to have financial difficulties.

A student at Korea National Sport University, Kim rose to fame at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, lifting 367.5 kilograms (810.2 pounds) to win the gold and set a new record in Asia.

He went on to win silver and bronze medals at the World Weightlifting Championships in 1991 and three gold medals at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in 1992.

However, a motorbike accident in 1996 left him paralyzed from the waist down and cost him his career.

“He was a talented athlete, and took part in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul as a high schooler,” said Lee Sang-jun, one of Kim’s fellow high school alumni. “He would’ve been Korea’s representative weightlifter [had it not been for the accident].”

Following the accident, Kim lived on a 525,000 won ($480) monthly pension granted to award-winning athletes by the government.

But his financial struggles only increased after the death of his mother, and his pension made him ineligible to receive government assistance for low-income people - the maximum ceiling for the subsidy, 499,288 won, is only about 25,000 won less than what Kim was already receiving. Those who meet the standard receive 617,000 won per month for basic living expenses.

On May 5, Kim was reported to have visited a university hospital in Chuncheon, but was unable to pay the 58,360 won fee required for his treatment. A hospital official said the former athlete wrote a note promising to pay back the debt.

He was also advised to talk to doctors in the hemato-oncology department, but later failed to appear for his appointment.

“He wrote a similar note in May last year because he couldn’t pay the 50,000 won fee, but he paid it back two months later,” the official said. “He appeared to have financial difficulties because he failed to make a lot of his appointments.”

Kim’s body was cremated on Tuesday.

BY KIM BONG-MOON, PARK JIN-HO [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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