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Tears of a Wrestler: “I’d Do Anything to Save the Team”

Tears of a Wrestler: “I’d Do Anything to Save the Team”

Posted November. 29, 2004 23:04,   


“I’d rather leave the sands right now than endure such humiliation.”

“Techno Goliath” Choi Hong-man (23, LG Investment & Securities) became the top star in Korean traditional wrestling (known as “ssireum”) with his outstanding talent, his impressive 218cm bulk, and an unexpectedly cute style of techno dancing. But now, his face has lost its usual smile.

On November 29, sitting in a huddle with his teammates in the cramped office of the Korea Ssireum Association (KSA) at Jangchoong Stadium, Choi looked infinitely small.

All 16 men on the coaching staff and roster of LG’s ssireum team, which is set to be disbanded after this season, began protesting that day. The reason for the protest is the prevailing conflict between the wrestlers, who want the formalization of the emergency planning committee, and the KSA, who argue that a formal emergency committee is unnecessary since the association is exerting efforts in all directions to handle the situation.

“Frankly, I’m not even sure what the problem is. I thought it was enough just to play hard as a wrestler, but…”

“I’m so sorry I even began wrestling,” Choi lamented, and said, “When I talked to my parents in Cheju-do or my girlfriend in Busan, I told them that I was fine. But I feel really lost and frustrated.”

Choi dropped out of Dong-A University last year to jump full-time into the professional wrestling league. He was crowned “Cheonha Jangsa” (national champion) in his first year as a professional wrestler, and went on to win two Baekdu (regional champion, over-105kg category) titles. “I lost a ton of weight worrying about the fact that I may not be able to wrestle again,” he remarked, adding, “I heard that in Japan, both the government and the business industry sponsor and develop sumo wrestling as a traditional sport. Nowadays, I even feel like becoming a sumo wrestler.”

Choi, who avows that he could starve for a month in protest if it would ensure the revival of his team, became teary-eyed when his friend and Hyundai Heavy Industries team member Kim Yong-dae (28) patted him on the shoulders with a sympathetic, “Take heart.” Kim had traveled up from Ulsan that day to participate in the protest.

Meanwhile, the fate of the Cheonha Jangsa Ssireum Competition, which is scheduled to take place from December 3 to 5 in Gumi, has become uncertain due to the LG team’s protest for the survival of the wrestlers and the formation of the emergency planning committee.

Soon-Il Kwon stt77@donga.com