Go to contents

Swimmer to Round Dokdo 33 Times

Posted May. 23, 2008 03:48,   


“I feel lonely and have difficulties, since, as you know, I am a widower. But whenever I succeed, all the hardships and agonies are flushed out at once. That’s why I take the plunge,” said Cho Oh-ryeon, the 56-year-old swimmer dubbed “Asia’s seal,” when asked why he keeps taking challenges in his late age.

The swim veteran, who wowed people in 1980 by crossing the Korea Strait by swimming, is set to swim around the Dokdo islets 33 times for a month in July. To prepare for his yet another ambitious plan, he has been training at a swimming pool in Oedo, Jeju Island, for 100 consecutive days.

○ Engaging in a hundred day-training like a monk

Some say that his challenge is a sheer commercial event. But some 30 million won was all he received from sponsors. With that small amount of money, he cannot afford to enjoy any luxury. What he wears is a worn out training suit and an equally worn out white swim suit. Only one person is assisting him with training. Since he arrived in Jeju on Feb. 11, he has stayed at a pension and made meals for himself.

Leaving the pension at 11 every morning, he walks 8 kilometers to the swimming pool and swims for two hours without a break. Though the routine training only takes four to five hours, it is not an easy task for someone who is in his mid 50s.

“I am fully aware that so much time has passed. As time goes by, fatigue accumulates and it takes more time to pick up…,” said Cho, admitting the difficulties coming from his age. One of his ways to recover from fatigue is regulating his diet. Though he has two meals a day, breakfast and dinner, his side dishes have been protein-rich beef and eels for more than three months. He alternates seasoning with salt and soy sauce to boost the taste of them, but the unchanged menu has already deprived him of his appetite.

Cho, who lost his wife to a heart attack in 2001, feels more lonely this time because he is alone here without his two sons around. In 2005 when he swam from Ulleung Island to the Dokdo islets, his sons were with him.

○ Time to reflect on his life

Cho was born in Haenam, South Jeolla Province, as the youngest child in a family of five brothers and five sisters. His poor family background did not allow him to continue study. Instead, he came to Seoul at age 18 in 1968 and began swimming. The following year, he was catapulted from obscurity to fame overnight by winning gold medals in the men’s 400m and 1500m at the 6th Asian Swimming Championships. However, life was still tough. He worked at a small store near Jongno and continued practicing at YMCA whenever he had time.

“I wanted to have beef to my heart’s content. When I see Park Tae-hwan training in a scientific manner, I feel there has been a sea change,” remarked Cho, confessing that he learns from Park, watching the video footage of his performance. Asked what he most regrets, he said he regrets most having started swimming too late. He might be in envy of Park whose situation is more favorable than his own when he was young.

“It’s very quiet underwater. There I look back on my life and think about whether I have led a fruitful life.”

“Right now, I only think about Dokdo. I will decide on the next goal only after I achieve the current one,” said Cho, who will embark on his challenge in mid-June.