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Champion Deaf Sprinter Says Running Gives Him Hope

Posted September. 09, 2009 08:24,   


Korea is not a good place for track and field, not to mention sprinting. No domestic athlete has made it to the qualifying round of an Olympics except for the 1988 Seoul Games.

When it comes to the Deaflympics, it is a different story. Korea won gold medals in the men’s 100 and 200 meters, both of which are considered the “crown jewels” of the sprint.

In 2001, Chae Gyeong-wan won the gold in the men’s 200 meters at the Deaflympics in Rome. He achieved the double of the 100 and 200 meters in the 2005 Melbourne tournament. His record of 21.26 seconds in the 200 meters would rank 17th if compared with the times of other elite athletes.

Running gave Chae hope. He came down with a severe fever at age three and lost his hearing. When he ran through the wind, he said he was the happiest man in the world.

Though talented, few could teach him. That changed when he met sign language teacher Yim Nak-cheol, 42, at a school for the deaf in Incheon. At age 18 in 1996, Chae entered the world of track and field. When Chae won golds in the 2001 and 2005 Deaflympics, Yim was with him.

Chae, now 31, joined the Incheon Metropolitan Government’s professional team in 2003. Yim asked the city’s track and field team coach Woo Jin-gyu, 52, to take care of Chae at a time when the team had no deaf athletes.

Woo said, “We had many communication problems. There were a few competitors in the Paralympics, but (Chae) got nervous when he competed against non-disabled athletes. He seemed to get used to the situation over three to four years.”

Chae began competing in regular events from 2006, and it was difficult at first. Since he failed to hear the starting gun, he started running after other competitors.

He never got disappointed, however. When selected MVP for winning three medals in the 2007 National Sporting Competition for the Disabled in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province, he said, “I regret winning the gold medals alone, but I hope one day to break the national non-disabled (100 meters) record (10.34 seconds).”

Woo said, “Sports is everything to Chae Gyeong-wan. He never drinks and smokes. As a sprinter, he’s a little bit old but so disciplined that he can maintain his record for a while.”

Chae wrote in the handwritten resume he submitted to the disabled association as follows: “I hesitated when learning that track and field is a difficult event where I have to overcome a lonely struggle with myself. With endurance and commitment, I got the chance to join the Olympics, the dream of every athlete, and learned an important lesson. I believe I can jump over a high wall as long as I don’t get lazy in everything.”

Whether aiming for a Korean or world sprint record, Chae said he will never give up trying.