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Lee Won-hee returns as a player in 15 years, achieves victory

Lee Won-hee returns as a player in 15 years, achieves victory

Posted June. 26, 2023 07:55,   

Updated June. 26, 2023 07:55


Lee Won-hee, a professor at Yongin University (photo), has made an impressive comeback to the judo competition in 15 years. On Saturday, in the first round of the men's 73-kg class at the International Judo Federation (IJF) 2023 Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the 41-year-old quadruple judo champion achieved a decisive victory over Ruslan Halavachou (22) of Belarus, who competed as an individual neutral player. The match concluded at 1 minute and 44 seconds from the start, as Ruslan executed a prohibited diving move, resulting in a foul and securing the win for Lee.

Lee, the gold medalist in the men's 73-kg class at the 2004 Athens Olympics, finally returned to competitive judo after a 15-year hiatus since the 2008 national team selection event. This marked his first international competition in 17 years, following his victory at the 2006 Doha Asian Games. Despite having served as a professor at Yongin University since 2011, he boldly announced his decision to compete as an athlete once again, setting his sights on claiming victory at the upcoming Paris Olympics in 2024. With a shortage of contenders in the 73-kg class, Lee, a member of the Gyeonggi Judo Association, decided to compete along with the sole applicant, Kang Heon-cheol (27), a national representative.

After winning his first match upon his return, Lee faced a challenge in the second round against Tajikistan's Behruzi Khojazoda (28). Despite his best efforts, Lee Was unable to overcome the obstacle and suffered a defeat. The intense match saw him concede half with an in-heel walk with just 34 seconds remaining on the clock. While Lee's tournament journey concluded after two games, the International Judo Federation (IJF) shared a video of his match on a social network service with an accompanying caption that read, “Lee Won-hee, a master of Tai Otoshi, has made a remarkable comeback.”

“It has been quite a while since I last competed in a tournament, and I must admit I felt a great deal of nervousness. However, this experience was precious to me," Lee said after the match. "Despite the challenges of maintaining training intensity while shedding around 10 kilograms more than usual, I believe I can achieve even better results in the future. I plan to take on upcoming Grand Slam competitions. I am determined to secure victory in the next round.”

Hong-Gu Kang windup@donga.com