Reviving Olympic glory
Men’s handball team seeks 1st medal since Seoul Games
By Jung Min-ho
Since the men’s handball team claimed the silver medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, it has been on a downward spiral, falling short of a podium finish and even missing the 1996 Atlanta Games.
But gritty veteran Yoon Kyung-shin, player-coach of the Olympic squad, is determined to repeat the glory of 1988 in London this summer.
“First of all, we would like to reinforce what turned out to be our weaknesses in past games so that we can achieve a better result in London,” Yoon said in an interview with The Korea Times.
The Korean team punched its ticket to London in November for a fourth-straight Olympic appearance. More recently, the squad topped the Asian Men’s Handball Championship in February, defeating Middle East powerhouse Qatar in the gold medal match. However, the competition in the Olympics will be much more challenging.
In particular, Yoon sees European countries as those to beat if his team is to win a medal.
“All the teams from Europe will be really challenging to face,” said the 38-year-old, who will have compete in his fifth Summer Games in London.
“Europe is where handball originated. The handball infrastructure there is well-constructed with a plethora of amateur teams.”
Among the 12 qualifiers, Europe will field nine teams including defending Olympic champions France, two-time European champions Denmark and world No. 2 Sweden who will look to extend its gold-medal sweep to 11.
Yoon said that the biggest weakness the Korean team has to improve on is a lack of stamina.
“History has demonstrated that our team always squanders the lead down the stretch due to a lack of stamina. We have to work on that.
“Physical limitations from lacking height as well as a lack of experience are other challenges that we should overcome to reach our goal.”
Yoon, seen as the best handball player 19th-ranked Korea has ever produced, left his mark in German handball history.
He is still the Handball-Bundesliga’s all-time leading scorer with 2,908 goals and holds the single-season record of 324. The left hander captured seven scoring titles during a 12-year spell in Germany.
At international level, he was named World Handball Player of the Year in 2001 and was top scorer at the 1995 and 1997 World Championships.
The burden on Yoon will be much heavier this time as a coach as well as a player.
“The role of player-coach is demanding,” he said. “Although I cannot play the full 60 minutes, I will do my part when the team needs me.”
This Olympics will be Yoon’s final stage as a player after a 28-year career on the court.
“My goal after the Olympics is to be an instructor who can teach theories and actual practice at the same time,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Although the team has been training intensely to be among the medalists in July, the “wild dream” will see fierce competition.
“From a realistic viewpoint, it will be hard,” Yoon said. “We are going to do our best regardless. Good results may await us in the end.”