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Olympians Feeling Less Pressure, More Freedom

Posted August. 19, 2008 07:39,   


Judoka Choi Min-ho, who won his country’s first gold at the Beijing Olympics, couldn’t hold back tears when his victory was announced. He was overwhelmed by the difficulty he had to endure after settling for the bronze in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

His 2004 gold-winning teammates enjoyed treatment far higher than he received.

Both athletes participating in the Beijing Olympic Games and domestic fans cheering them, however, have shown a much different attitude this year. Korean athletes seem more relaxed in the competition and fans have also shown sincere encouragement and cheers for those failing to win medals.

Despite his failure to win a medal in the men`s weightlifting competition, Lee Bae-young moved many Koreans with his tenacious struggle to overcome an injury. His home page was inundated with cheers, with one netizen saying, “I also shed tears watching you making a strenuous effort despite your injury.”

Judoka Wang Ki-chun and fencer Nam Hyun-hee, who each won silver Aug. 11, also received a warm congratulations from a great number of netizens on their home pages.

Many are showing heightened interest in competitors in non-popular events hardly aired on the Internet. Equestrian competitor Choi Jun-sang finished second to last Friday, but many Koreans sent him encouraging messages.

When female kayaker Lee Soon-ja said she would rent her kayak to compete in the women’s K-1 (kayak single) 500 meters, netizens left comments saying, “We are happy to see someone who always does her best,” “I believe you will write a new chapter in the nation’s kayaking history,” or “Never give up to the end and cheer up!”

A slew of netizens encouraged Lee Choon-heon, who participated in the modern pentathlon, with one posting, “You are a real sportsman to finish all the games by yourself. Though there are only a small number of fans around you, don’t lose your fighting spirit."

The difference is also found in athletes who seem to want to feel free to compete rather than feel pressure to win a medal. Judoka Kim Jae-beom, who won the silver in the men`s 81-kilogram competition, said, “I honestly admit I lost in the final. That’s that.”

Though Yoon Jin-hee finished second in the women`s 53-kilogram weightlifting competition, she gave out a bright smile. Weightlifter Lee Bae-young said, “I finished last but I don’t think I am a loser because I did my best.”

This is a huge departure from the past, when most Korean athletes felt like failures if they did not win the gold.

Park Jin-Kyung, a professor of sports and leisure at Kwandong University, said, “The most distinctive feature of the Beijing Olympics is that Korean athletes began enjoying the competition regardless of their results. Korean audiences have also shown much maturity in treating Korean athletes the same as those winning golds in swimming and weightlifting, which were considered the exclusive territory of developed nations.”

Nam Jung-ung, a professor of sports science at Chungju National University, said, “This shows Korean sports are no longer confined to the notion of `achievement is everything.` Unlike the past in which sport circles depended on government support, more athletes have put more importance on self-satisfaction and personal reputation at this year`s Olympics."

gold@donga.com ray@donga.com