Monday, August 11, 2008

Rooting for the other red, white, and blue (and black)

As Olympic fever sweeps the world, I'm finding myself more caught up in the nail-biting excitement than ever. Never much of a sports fan, and rarely inclined to follow summer Olympics when I could be out playing in the garden hose, I'm discovering the thrill of the event and developing a creepy crush on South Korean swimming phenom Park Tae-hwan (a.k.a. "Marine Boy"). Park made history over the weekend, snagging SoKo's first Olympic medal (and a shiny gold at that!) in a swimming event. The 400-meter men's freestyle event has been dominated by beefy Westerners for decades, so it was a milestone for Asian swimmers, as well as a personal triumph for the 18 year-old (19, Korean age) cutie pie who was disqualified for a false-start in the 2004 Athens Games. It's been 72 years since an Asian won gold in a men's freestyle event.

"Abby has a crush on me?! YES!" --Park Tae-hwan after winning the 400-meter men's freestyle

For Korea's athletes, Sunday was a day for history-making and record-breaking. The country's women archers strike fear in competitors worldwide, dominating the sport since 1984 and winning gold in the team event every year since its 1988 inauguration. This year marks the sixth straight gold for the women's team. I'd say that kind of accomplishment is well worth the possibly permanent mark of the bow string on leader Park Sung-hyun's chin. Below, the ladies pose for a team shot at Seoul's Olympic training center about a month ago. Those chestguards are SO Korean!

If Park Tae-hwan is my man crush, 22 year-old weightlifter Yoon Jin-hee takes the gold in the category of girl crush. This li'l powerhouse walked away with a silver medal in the women's 53-kilogram weightlifting event Sunday. She hoisted a impressive total of 213 kilograms. So what if her moppy 'do makes her look a little ajumma (older, married woman). I like her! This event proved there's nothing like the Olympics to test my pronunciation skills, and I'm pretty sure I scored a fat "F" during Sunday's final broadcast. Thailand's Jaroenrattanatarakoon Prapawadee took the gold in this event and there's no reporting on a silver without mentioning the gold. Sorry, Jaroenrattanatarakoon! Below, you see my girl crush, Yoon Jin-hee, showin' her stuff.

South Korea's first gold this year came from 28 year-old judoka Choi Min-ho who flipped his opponents around like flapjacks Saturday evening. This appears to be another fairy tale ending. But why did I crack up reading the following report from the Chosun Daily:

"Suffering from the physical side effects of lowering his weight by 6 kg at the Athens Olympics, Choi won only a bronze medal due to muscle cramp in his leg. He turned to the bottle after returning to Korea, to help him cope with his feeling of loneliness and isolation.And he was so stressed out that he had to eat 40 to 50 ice cream bars a day in order to go to sleep at night."

Okay, I know why. It's that line about the ice cream bars! 40-50?!?! Surely there's been a mistake in the Korean-to-English translation . . . or maybe they were low-fat ice cream bars. Everyone knows low-fat just means you can eat more! All joking aside, congrats to Choi and SoKo, alike! Below, it appears the fit and trim Choi has overcome his nightly ice cream bar cravings.

Like elections, the Olympics mean long hours at the office for us broadcasters, but the outpouring of national pride, roller coaster of emotions, and free cup ramen provided by KBS are worth the missed sleep and leisure time. Oh, and I should probably include, "Go U.S.A.!"

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Hi Abby,

One of the things I find interesting about Korea's approach to the Olympics is how deliberate they have been about setting very specific goals measuring success (10 gold and in the top 10, was that it?). You just don't see the US doing something like that. I don't know whether we just expect to win a bunch of medals or whether it's more of a western attitude of "we're all winners!".

Either way, though, the performance of Korea's athletes has been phenomenal. I wonder how they would rank overall if you took the number of medals won divided by the total population? I bet they'd be even higher rated by that metric


P.S.- OK, geek check. Based on the latest results I saw, I calculated the rankings of medals/population as Australia #1, Korea #2, Germany #3, and USA #4.