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Shuttlecocks flying high for gold

The badminton training court at the Taeneung Training Center in February was filled with the sounds of shuttlecocks swishing back and forth over the nets. The South Korean national badminton team of 25 men and 23 women paired off and practiced powerful rallies along about a dozen nets on the court. The team began its official Olympics training in January, with the goal of winning a third consecutive Olympic gold medal this summer in London.

Olympic training at the Taeneung Training Center is in full swing.

Olympic training at the Taeneung Training Center is in full swing.

Badminton Gold

The Korean men’s doubles team of Lee Yong-dae and Jung Jae-sung currently ranks number two in the world. The South Korean national team has players in the men’s singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles all ranking in the world’s top ten. The national team has also marked records in past Olympic Games. With the exception of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the Korean badminton team has won a gold medal in every Olympics since the sport became an official medal event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The team boasts a proud record of six gold, seven silver, and four bronze medals from five Olympics.

The world of badminton is dominated by China, Southeast Asia, and Europe. Each region has its strong points for winning matches inside the court. It is well known that China has the largest pool of highly skilled athletes; players from Southeast Asia are very flexible and have quick reflexes; and European athletes have the physical advantages of strength and height.

How does the Korean national team rank among the world’s top players?
Coach Sung Han-kuk says, “To tell you the truth, the Korean players have average physical strength compared to foreign players, but we have the skill, tactics, and perseverance to be top players. As well as tough physical training, we focus on speed, predictive thinking, and reflex. I train my team to read the game before it even happens.”

Badminton is a sport that requires synchronized eye, foot, and wrist coordination. A keen eye can see the blind spots of the opponent; smart thinking can predict the next move; quick feet can catch the bullet-fast shuttlecocks; and a strong and flexible wrist can send the shuttlecock back across the net only inches before it hits the ground.

Speed, agility, power, and endurance are also key ingredients, but the ability to anticipate the opponent’s next move and get ahead of the shuttlecock is the essence of being the number one player. You are already too late if you follow the opponent’s shuttlecock with your eyes first and move your feet second. Only a great player can predict the trajectory of the shuttlecock after endless image training and analysis.

The South Korean national team is ready to compete in international matches.

The South Korean national team is ready to compete in international matches.

A Rising Star

Lee Yong-dae of the South Korean national team is considered one player who has this ability. As a 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist in mixed doubles with Lee Hyo-jeong, Lee Yong-dae is a rising star in Korean badminton. Only 20 years old, he is the badminton genius that the country has been looking for since South Korea’s golden days of the 1990s when Park Joo-bong, dubbed the “Emperor of Shuttlecock,” ruled the international arena. Lee’s quick thinking enables him to change his tactics as needed. All of his lightning fast smashes, soft drop shots, and changes in direction come when his opponent least expects them. Lee became famous when he won gold at the Beijing Olympics, the youngest-ever gold medalist in Olympic badminton. He will be fighting for his second Olympic gold medal this year with his partner Jung Jae-sung in the men’s doubles.

Article from Korea Magazine (March, 2012)

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