11.16 Fri

Sports

Sportsmanly athlete can’t stop beating people

Aug 31,2018
Lee Dae-hoon, left, competes in the taekwondo men’s 68-kilogram (150-pound) division at the 2018 Asian Games at Jakarta Convention Center Plenary Hall on Aug. 23. [YONHAP]
It doesn’t come as a huge surprise that Korea has always dominated its most famous martial art at the Asian Games, winning a total of 58 taekwondo gold medals over the last 32 years. Despite the long medal run, there hasn’t been a single Korean taekwondo practitioner that has managed to win gold at three consecutive Asiads - until now.

At the 2018 Asian Games, top-ranked taekwondo practitioner Lee Dae-hoon has successfully defended his title for a third straight Asian Games, defeating Amir Mohammad Bakhshi Kalhori of Iran 12-10 in the men’s 68-kilogram (150-pound) division on Aug. 23.

Even more impressive, Lee’s achievement was accomplished in two different weight divisions as he took gold in the men’s 63 kilograms in 2010 and 2014 and in 68 kilograms this year.

“I felt some pressure, and I was scared that I might lose,” Lee said. “To be honest, I feel more relieved than happy.”

Lee is best known as the bronze medalist from the 2016 Rio Olympics. He went into the Rio Games as one of the top-ranked competitors, but settled for bronze after a surprise loss to Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan. When the fight ended, Lee immediately started clapping and cheering for Abughaush, even hugging his opponent. Although he is now the top-ranked athlete in the world in his weight class, Lee is probably most famous for this impressive act of sportsmanship and kindness.

Lee learned from his fight against Abughaush, opting to give up his aggressive style of play to avoid making the same mistakes again.

“Usually, I compete in tournaments thinking that I want to attract more fans from the aggressive playing style,” Lee said. “But for the first time in a while, I was thinking that it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t win gold. I didn’t want to give up my victory to show fun taekwondo.”

Despite cruising through to the final, Lee struggled in the gold medal fight against Bakhshi, losing the first round 1-4.

“I started thinking that I might lose,” Lee said. “If I lost, I thought it would be harder for me to get back up. I had a lot of kicks, but that didn’t lead to points. So rather than wasting energy, I decided to use more punches.”

Lee’s change in strategy definitely worked out, as he won five and six points in the next two rounds to conclude his match with a 12-10 victory.

“After the Olympics, I keep on thinking that I can lose again someday,” Lee said. “So I’m very careful. I’ve experienced how it feels to lose when expectations are highest. I feel like it’s about time for me to lose, but since I’m not, I’m a little worried.”

Since the Olympics, Lee has competed in about 10 international events, including major events like the World Championship and World Grand Prix. He hasn’t lost a single match.

“I didn’t lose a single match [over two years],” Lee said. “But this is only known to fans who are interested in taekwondo. The majority of fans are more familiar with my name from my loss at the Rio Olympics. I didn’t want to be remembered as somebody who always has a winning opponent to congratulate.”

Despite his Asian Games success, Lee is still one gold medal shy of a career Grand Slam - he still needs a win at the Olympics.

“That is my goal,” Lee said. “But wearing the taeguk mark is every [Korean] taekwondo practitioners’ dream. Getting on the team is as competitive as the Olympics. Since it’s not an easy thing to do, I need to try my hardest.”

BY PIH JU-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
All News