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Korean bob sleigh team vie for PyonChang Olympics

Posted November. 22, 2017 08:09,   

Updated November. 22, 2017 08:47


A fairy tale is created just reminiscing the path Korean bob sleigh has walked through. The protagonists are coach Lee Yong-jong, Won Yun-jong (pilot) and Seo Young-woo (breakman), who are from South Korea, a barren land for sleighs. They were the first Asians ever to win the gold medal at the World Cup. Currently, these players are going through the World Cup season (Nov. 9-Jan. 22, 2018) to finish the fairy tale with a happy ending at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

As they were not able to meet the expectations at the first and second rounds of the World Cup, concerns over whether they have the potential to overcome this crisis arouse within Korea. The “story of overcoming crisis” from the protagonists, who were preparing to depart at the Incheon International Airport on Oct. 21, may show how this story ends.

The index finger of coach Lee is calloused. This is from secretly writing down orders of foreign countries’ team coaches at the playing fields. Since there was no one to seek for advice as a newly appointed coach in 2010, Lee continued to keep recording his secret records and there was a reason behind this.

In the winter of 2010, coach Lee and his team participated in the American Cup, which was the first game since Lee was appointed coach. The players were all beginners at that time and suffered from multiple overturn accidents. Lee was sorry to see the injured athletes. The future also seemed desolate.

Now, Lee has more than 30 notebooks filled with the know-hows of other teams, such as “stay close to the right lane at the first course” and “lower your posture and drive.” In every international tournament, Lee would roam around waiting rooms. He paid attention to what coaches of other teams said through walkie-talkies. This is how the reference book that laid the foundation of Korean bob sleigh was created.

The bob sleigh that the protagonists of this story started fearlessly was a tough friend. The time goes back to the winter of 2010 when there was an off-season training in the United States. It was when Seo started to ride sleighs for the first time with Won. The sleighs that he was on would turnover every time. The number of injuries on their body grew and so did their fear.

Won’s shoulders were heavy as he was in complete charge of driving the sleigh. Like Seo, he was a track-and-field athlete until college and confident of having better athletic ability than anyone else. “The sleigh would overturn seven to eight times out of 10 times,” Won said. “I was so sorry for Seo. I would also feel a sense of shame to see how bad I was doing in this field.”

When the two players were going through complete psychological breakdown, they did not step back but rather moved forward with determination. Won observed every single video clip of games played by foreign players and identified the characteristics of different sections of each race field. The “wall of the world” would suddenly look so high. “(After seeing other players) The differences looked incomparable and competing them seemed almost impossible,” Won said. “However, we anticipated for the future and did what we could do each year.”

The two players have the third tournament of the World Cup on Saturday in Whistler, Canada. It is a place where they received a medal from the wife of the late Malcolm Lloyd and wore the first gold medal around their neck a year ago. “We shall move forward towards the gold medal in Pyeongchang,” the ending of the fairy tale that Won and Seo dream of is written on the gold medal they received.

Jae-Hyeng Kim monami@donga.com