Posted July. 31, 2008 08:48,
When I told people I would be competing in the K-1 500, they thought I was fighting in the K-1 World Grand Prix, said Lee Sun-ja, laughing.
Though she laughed, her smile betrays the sadness players of unpopular games typically have.
Lee, a 30-year-old female kayaker, will go to the Beijing Olympics to compete in the womens K-1 (kayak single) 500 meters.
She earned her Olympic ticket in May by securing a second spot at a qualifying round held in Komatsu, Japan. It is the first time for a Korean kayaker to join the Olympics in his or her own right, not on a wild-card entry.
Lee was born the eighth child among two boys and nine girls in a mountain village in Jangsu County, North Jolla Province. Though growing up in an area rarely related to water, she managed to become an Olympic athlete in the sport. Her life with kayaks started when she was picked by a canoe coach on the day of the entrance examination for Jeonbuk High School for Athletes where she wanted to study to be a runner.
When I boarded the kayak for the first time, I had no thoughts whatsoever about the Olympics. But my aim grew higher over the years, and now I have finally realized my ultimate goal, said Lee.
The Beijing Olympics turns a spotlight on those lone players, like Lee Sun-ja, who take solitary but worthy challenges.
Park Seong-baek, a 23-year-old of strong personality, is the only male cyclist who will represent Korea in Beijing.
Park, who will compete in the road cycling event at the Olympics, is now training with his Seoul City team members, as he is the only cyclist on the Olympic national team. Korean cycling is so underdeveloped that it is the first time in 20 years since the 1988 Seoul Olympics that a Korean cyclist will compete in the Olympics. Though he has no partner to prepare for the competition in Beijing, he has set a bold goal of staying the course with world-class players including those who have won at Le Tour de France.
Park is widely known for his romantic relationship with an equestrian player representing Malaysia.
Choi Jun-sang (30, Samsung Electronics), who has won the ticket for the Olympics in his own right for the first time in the history of Korean equestrianism, is preparing with his horse Chento to show splendid performances at Concours Dressage. In Asia, he is called the master equestrian and secured two titles in a row at a competition in Doha, Qatar in 2006. But the barrier of the world championship seems too much for him. To earn the points necessary to advance to the Olympics, Choi had to participate in a total of 11 contests from last September, riding his horse for seven hours everyday.
Lee Hyeong-taek (32, Samsung Securities) is a representative player for mens tennis. With the Beijing Olympics, he has set the record of joining the Olympics four times consecutively. The previous three entries were as a wild-card, but this time he will be up for the Olympic race based on his own ability. He earned the right by securing the 55th spot in the world ranking, which makes him proud.
However, he feels something is lacking because he will be all alone in Beijing. It feels somewhat sad to be going to Beijing, which will be my last Olympics, alone. I hope excellent players will come out down the road, said Lee.