2020 — A year in sportNever have the odds been stacked so heavily against the sporting world as in 2020. As the whole world reeled from the coronavirus pandemic, sport and culture took a backseat and the focus shifted to lockdowns and social distancing.
And yet, sport found a way.
When the KBO returned in May, it did so with a bang. Sport-starved fans from around the world started tuning into the Korean baseball league, desperate for some action. Many of the new fans stayed, choosing a team and following them right the way through to the Korean Series.
Individual stars stood out again. Son Heung-min started his season on blistering form, quickly becoming the top goal-scorer in the league, while Korea’s best golfers continued to dominate on the LPGA Tour, winning major titles and Player of the Year honors.
Of course there were casualties as well. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was postponed, hopefully to be held next year, and the MLB season was one of many to be dramatically shortened.
The Korea JoongAng Daily looks back at the biggest stories from a sporting year that almost never happened.
Covid-19 derails Tokyo 2020
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics was officially postponed on March 24, the first Games ever to be canceled or delayed for any reason except war.
The delay to the Olympics, which should have been the biggest sporting event of the year, has a huge impact. The athletes that were set to compete have spent four years honing their skills and finetuning their technique ready for the Games, and a delay of a year could significantly effect their performance. Financially, the postponement will cost the organizers billions of dollars.
The Tokyo Games are now scheduled to start on July 23, 2021.
Korea’s budding summer Olympians weren’t the only athletes to miss out this year. The 2020 Asean Para Games was entirely canceled, as were major tournaments in a number of sports where Korea is normally competitive, including figure skating, tennis, speed skating, table tennis, archery and shooting.
Everything works for Son Heung-min
Son Heung-min went from strength to strength this year, ending the 2019-20 season on a high note and starting the 2020-21 season with blistering hot form.
Despite a few injury scares and a poorly-timed tackle that could have detailed his season, Son ended 2019-20 by winning the English Premier League’s Goal of the Season for an incredible solo effort against Burnley in December last year, the same goal that saw him go on to win the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal in the world.
Son started the 2020-21 season strong, scoring four goals against Southampton in the second game of the season. Son was named Player of the Month in October and continued on incredible form, scoring 10 goals before December had even begun.
Under manager Jose Mourinho, Son and Harry Kane proved a deadly goalscoring partnership and are on track to set new records as the Premier League’s most prolific goal-scoring duo — both for a single season and of all time.
KBO plays to empty stadiums
For the first time in KBO history, the season was postponed and all exhibition games canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the postponement wasn’t the only big “first” for the KBO — the players also had to play through the majority of the season without any fans in the stadiums.
Despite the issues, the KBO still managed to play all 144 games and the full postseason, although the All-Star Game was cut. As everybody followed the safety protocols, the KBO didn’t see any players test positive for the virus.
Although all 10 clubs suffered huge financial losses, the teams and the KBO still managed to find ways to encourage fans to stay loyal. Midway through the season, the KBO opened its gates, allowing a limited number of fans into stadiums. Online and social media events also helped to keep fans engaged from a distance.
As the KBO was one of the very first baseball leagues in the world to start playing properly, sports-starved fans from the United States quickly started tuning into games broadcast live on ESPN. This helped the KBO gain even more fans internationally.
Kim Sei-young wins Player of the Year
Although a number of LPGA Tour events were canceled, 2020 will remain an unforgettable year for Kim Sei-young.
Kim was one of many Korean golfers to stay in Korea at the start of the season and compete in KLPGA Tour events. It wasn’t until August that she headed back to the United States and joined the LPGA Tour. Kim started competing at the end of August and it didn’t take her long to pick up her first win, at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — one of the LPGA Tour’s major tournaments.
That was Kim’s first major win, but she wasn’t finished there. In the very next event, the Pelican Women’s Championship, Kim picked up her second win of the season. She had her shot at winning her third at the season finale, the CME Group Tour Championship, but ended up finishing runner-up behind world No. 1 Ko Jin-young.
Those two victories were good enough for her to jump up to No. 2 in the world ranking and win the Rolex Player of the Year award.
Kim A-lim wins U.S. Women's Open
It was time for another Cinderella story at the U.S. Women’s Open this year. Kim A-lim was the surprise winner of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, overcoming a five-shot deficit on the final day to pick up a big “W.”
Entering the tournament with a world ranking of No. 94, Kim received almost no attention until the very last day. She finished with three birdies to pick up a one-shot victory as a non-LPGA member. She won $1 million in prize money and immediately earned her full-time status on the LPGA Tour for the 2021 season.
As Kim has only had two KLPGA Tour wins since she turned pro in 2013, her sudden victory at one of the biggest tournaments in the golf world was quite an upset. Going from an unknown to a major champion overnight, Kim quickly announced that she would play on the LPGA Tour next year.
NC Dinos win first-ever Korean Series title
The NC Dinos have finally done it.
Despite the tough conditions this season, the Dinos managed to win both the regular season and the Korean Series. The Dinos were dominant in the regular season with a record of 83 wins, six ties and 55 losses, finishing 4.5 games ahead of runner-up the KT Wiz. By winning the regular season, they earned a one-way to the Korean Series, facing the defending champion Doosan Bears.
Although the Bears were hoping for another major upset, it wasn’t to be this year, as the Dinos went on to pick up the Korean Series trophy in Game 6.
Although it was disappointing that the Dinos fans and players weren’t able to celebrate at the newly built Changwon NC Park, as all games were held at Gocheok Sky Dome, it was still an unforgettable season for the Changwon team as this is the first time in the club’s history that it has won either the regular season or the Korean Series, let alone both, since joining the KBO in 2013.
Kim Kwang-hyun makes MLB debut
Another Korean big league star was born in 2020 as former SK Wyverns starter Kim Kwang-hyun debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Kim quickly made his way up to become a starting pitcher for the Cardinals and picked up his first win on Aug. 22.
Despite struggling at some points, Kim ended his debut season with three wins and no losses and an impressive 1.62 ERA after 39 innings across eight games.
The 32-year-old’s first year still had plenty of highlights, including being named a top rookie by the MLB in August, tossing seven shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in September and his first postseason appearance in the Wild Card Series.
Taeguk Warriors tackle Covid-19
Disaster struck when the Korean national men’s team flew to Austria to play its first fixtures of the year in November, as six members of the squad tested positive for Covid-19.
It’s still unclear how the players, who were supposedly isolated for their entire time in Austria, were exposed to the virus. Among the infected players were key members of the squad, including Hwang In-beom of Rubin Kazan and goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo of Ulsan Hyundai FC. The team went on to lose to Mexico before picking up the Taeuk Warriors’ 500th win against Qatar.
The dangerous Austrian outing rounded off the national team’s schedule for the year. Luckily, none of the players or members of staff infected became seriously ill and all have reportedly since recovered.
Kim Yeon-koung returns to the KOVO
In December last year, world famous volleyball star Kim Yeon-koung announced her return to the Korean Volleyball Federation (KOVO), signing with her former club Heungkuk Life Insurance.
Despite huge offers from clubs in China and Turkey, Kim chose to return to Korea and signed a one-year contract at 350 million won ($319,000). The biggest reason behind her decision was the uncertainty in the leagues around the world during the pandemic.
This August, when the 2020-21 season started, Kim finally made her long-awaited return to a Korean court. With her addition, the Pink Spiders are cruising through the season with 11 wins and only two losses. The Pink Spiders were dominant at the start of the season as they picked up 10 straight wins from the season opener.
Kim is ranked first in the women’s league in attack percentage at 49.04 percent, as well as serves at 0.40 per game.
After rounding off a huge 2019 season by signing a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, 2020 was a year of adjustment for starter Ryu Hyun-jin, wearing a new jersey for a new team in an entirely different league.
After seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, moving to the American League was a big change for Ryu, and the disruption caused by Covid-19 didn’t help — not only was the season shortened and delayed, but the Blue Jays never actually got to play a game in their home stadium.
Still, Ryu adjusted to life as the ace starter of his new club, leading the Blue Jays to a brief postseason appearance and ending the season with five wins and two losses with a 2.69 ERA after pitching 67 innings across 12 games.
After a strong season, Ryu was once again a contender for the Cy Young Award, finishing third.
BY JIM BULLEY, KANG YOO-RIM [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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