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Medal Winners Recall Painful Memories of 2004

Posted August. 14, 2008 06:32,   


When the Dong-A Ilbo met swimming sensation Park Tae-hwan at the 2004 Athens Olympics four years ago, he was of tender age.

Park had a tan on his face except his forehead and eye areas that were protected by a swimming cap and goggles.

“I was exposed to the sun because there is no roof in the pool,” he said with a bright smile. Now, this young boy has grown up to become a world-class swimmer.

At age 15, he competed in Athens as the youngest member of the national Olympic team.

“I saw Ian Thorpe in the cafeteria of the athletes’ village. His feet were really big,” the verdant Park said. “My coach told me to realize my dream. I will learn a lot at this event.”

Learn he did. Park was disqualified in the 400-meter preliminary for a false start. Losing the opportunity to compete against his idol Thorpe, he cried his eyes out in the restroom for two hours.

Four years later, the Korean has become an Olympic champion in winning the gold in the men’s 400-meter freestyle and the silver in the 200-meter freestyle.

The German news service Deutsche Presse-Agentur praised Park as a star who no longer needs to hide in the bathroom.

“The humiliation I suffered at the time instilled an unyielding spirit in me,” he said. Indeed, the bitter experience has served as a driving force behind his success.

Park is one of several Korean athletes who overcame adversity to win Olympic glory. Choi Min-ho, who won his country’s first gold at the Beijing Olympics in the men’s 60-kilogram judo competition, is one of them.

After having failed to lose weight in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics, he had to shed 10 kilograms quickly. The abrupt loss in weight gave him little stamina to last against his opponents, as he barely won the bronze.

A distraught Choi drank seven bottles of soju, but couldn’t ease his indignation. He also knew, however, that he couldn’t idle away hitting the bottle.

Determined not to repeat his past mistakes, he waited for four years while tightly controlling his weight. His struggle bore fruit in Beijing, as he beat all of his competitors by ippon despite their physical conditions being better than his.

Choi said that over the past four years, he suffered pain that bordered on death and spent days sobbing. After winning the gold, he said he wolfed down fried noodle soup that he had avoided to control his weight.

The Dong-A Ilbo also carried the stories of shooting gold medalist Jin Jong-ho and fencing silver medalist Nam Hyun-hee under the headline, “My Unfinished Story.”

At the 2004 Athens Olympic, Jin failed to win the gold in the 50-meter air pistol competition after scoring a 6.9 in the seventh round. The same year, Nam surprisingly beat the world No. 4 in the first round of the women’s individual foil, but lost in the second round and settled for fifth.

The two told Dong-A that they wanted to be protagonists four years later, and that to do so, they trained without a break.”

Their hard work paid off this week.

Jin got married during preparation for this Olympics and postponed having a child after the Beijing Olympics. He also cut his hair very short to keep his determination.

He won the silver in the 10 meters and the gold in the 50 meters, becoming the first Korean to win a shooting event since the 1992 Barcelona Games.

After a fierce competition in the final, Jin scored a 660.4 to edge his North Korean competitor by two-tenths of a point. “The experience four years ago toughened me not to be swayed by any situation,” Jin said.

Nam, who endured indifference and pinned her hope on the tip of her sword, brought her country its first Olympic medal in women’s fencing. She narrowly lost the final, giving up the decisive point with just four seconds left.