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Miraculous "Flight" by South Korean Ski Jumpers

Posted January. 19, 2003 22:56,   


Miracle in Tarvisio.

Korea for the first time in history won the gold medals in a world championship. The gold medals in the sky jump for individuals and national teams in the 21st Winter Universiade Tarvisio 2003. The victory is a miracle.

Korea has only 7 registered ski jumpers. On the other hand, a European country has an average of 1,000 athletes. In Japan, 600 have registered themselves. Even under these unfavorable conditions, South Korean "flying birds" have turned the unthinkable into a reality.

The player who triggered the miracle was Kang Chil-goo, a teenager and the youngest among the national team members. On Saturday, he grabbed the gold medal, the first one that a Korean athlete has ever won in a winter game, except the gold medals in the short track.

Kang first started his career as a cross-country player. In the Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City last year, he flew 122m and pulled the ranking of the Korean national team up to 8th. Coach Choi Don-gook (41) commented, "Kang has guts and talents. I believe he will make his name in the world."

The winning spirits continued in January 19th. The South Korean team was led to gold medal by the excellent performance of Choi Hung-chul, Kim Hyun-kee, Choi Yong-jik and Kang. The total points were tallied to 693.0, beating Slovenia by 7 points. Thus, Kang got to win two medals.

It is undeniable that Univerisade is smaller than Olympics and World Championship in size. Nonetheless, the achievement is something that should not be belittled considering the "barren" skiing environment in Korea.

South Korea has only a short history of 12 years, compared with other countries. Ski jump was first introduced in 1991. But the first overseas training was conducted in 1994. Thus, in substance, the sport has only 7-8 years of history. At that time, the players had no regular ramp, and had to settle for a temporary one that was 15m in length.

In 1996, South Korean players got to have the first and only official-sized ramp in Moojoo Resort. Without sprinklers to cool down grass, however, they frequently got burned during summer training. Due to the lack of training facilities, they have spent most of the year overseas for training.

In addition, only 7 players have been registered. Out of the 7, only five are deemed eligible to compete in the worldwide games. Nonetheless, South Korea beat Japan and other European countries, which have boasted of the excellent performance of their players. Now, with the victories this time, South Korea could hopefully advance itself in this field, which hinges on investment in players and equipment.

Coach Choi pleads, "With a little more affection, we could top the world even in the Winter Olympics. Pyungchang County in Gangwon Province has participated in the race for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. We should build up more ski jump ramps and teams to materialize on the victory."

South Korea will challenge another gold medal on January 22 in K-120. If it wins, it will grab all championships in this Universiade.

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com