‘Touch God’s heartstrings for gold’
This is the fifth in a series of interviews with Korean athletes who will take part in the 2012 London Olympics beginning July 27. — ED.
By Jung Min-ho
No one expected featherweight freestyle wrestler Yang Jung-mo to return from the 1976 Montreal Olympics as the first gold medalist from an independent South Korea.
Eight years later, You In-tak in the freestyle lightweight division and Kim Weon-kee as a Greco-Roman featherweight topped the podium at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, bringing further success to the nation’s men’s wrestling team that earned seven more gold medals at the next six Summer Games. This streak was broken in Beijing four years ago.
Local fans will hope Korean wrestling can bounce back in London this summer and there is one man putting in a tremendous effort to make it happen.
“That’s what brought me back here,” said An Han-bong, Korea national team coach and 57-kilogram Greco-Roman gold medallist at the Barcelona Games in 1992 in an interview with The Korea Times. “What I’m hoping for at the forthcoming London Olympics is to repeat the glory of Korean wrestling.”
The squad is known to have strong mental strength and stamina. An said he wants to see an undefeated spirit once again in London. He added that the team has to make tremendous efforts to accomplish the desired outcome.
“With the physical disadvantages that we have as Asians, what I would like to focus on is to reinforce what we are good at, persistence and tenacity, while improving on our weaknesses,” he said. “I believe the Olympics is about spirit. Strong willpower is the Korea team’s best weapon.”
When Jung Ji-hyun defeated Cuba’s Roberto Monzon in the men’s 60-kilogram Greco-Roman final in Athens in 2000, An was there as a coach who made the triumphant achievement possible from behind the scenes.
“And then, I left,” An said. “It took me seven years to come back here; not just myself, though. I brought old Spartan training methods and that spirit back to the National Training Center.”
The coach says he still remembers the moment he won gold 20 years ago, which was impossible without torturous training.
“The excruciating pain from the training obviously paid off later. The all-out preparation gave me the confidence that I could beat anyone,” An said. “Every time I got on the stage for matches, I even prayed ‘God please let him win if he makes more efforts than I do’ and I stood there alone in the end.”
An said he could not believe what he had achieved until the reality hit him at Gimpo Airport when a slew of fans welcomed him back in appreciation of his accomplishment.
“But I was more elated when Ji-hyun won in 2004,” he said. “It was such a rewarding moment.”
An’s schedule is pretty much the same as the athletes’. He sweats as much as the Olympic contenders grappling on the floor with them every day. The gym where the athletes work out was steamy like a sauna. Barbells, kettle bells, and worn-out tires were all over the place with an array of high bars in the corner.
“I believe the coaches should always make an effort to lead the team in the right direction and keep looking for better ways to guide them,” the former champion said. “Otherwise, I don’t think they deserve the position.”
He thinks Iran and Russia are two of the most competitive teams so the Korean wrestlers’ training programs focus on developing ways to effectively tackle that challenge.
“This time will be different,” An said. “In the end, however, you must touch the heartstrings of God to win the gold.”