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Lee trains mind to master slopes

Jan 03,2017
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Lee Sang-ho, who hopes to medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, says his game sense has skyrocketed after receiving tips on how to empty his mind. He said, “I will train to the point of boarding the PyeongChang Olympic slopes with my eyes closed.” [JANG JIN-YOUNG]
A member of the South Korean national team for alpine snowboarding, Lee Sang-ho, 21, of Korea National Sport University, is expected to acquire a medal at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February 2018 as he is practically the only world-class athlete in the country for snow sports.

In the sports of skiing and snowboarding, there will be 61 events, but South Korea has so far failed to obtain even a single medal in any of them.

But Lee could be the one to change that. In the National Ski Association (FIS) Snowboard Alpine World Cup Men’s Parallel Giant Slalom in Carezza, Italy, on Dec. 15, Lee placed fourth against world-class athletes such as Bulgaria’s Radoslav Yankov, 26, who is ranked first in the world.

It was the best outcome in a competition for snow sport in Korean history.

“In technique and in game sense, I’m at a similar level to the world’s top rankers,” Lee said in an interview on Dec. 22 with JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily.

“But my international ranking wasn’t good. The problem was, unlike in the qualifying tournament, I was overly conscious of my opponents in the head-to-head tournament finals. Being so immersed, I couldn’t remember the match after completing the race.”

Lee continued, “After receiving advice from a mental coach, I realized that excessive competitiveness can have an adverse effect. By emptying my mind, my record improved.”

Lee’s performance is now rapidly improving. He was ranked 52nd in the 2013-14 season, passing through 24th in 2014-15, then 12th in 2015-16 and now fourth place this season.

“The routine I developed while reading research papers related to sports psychology was helpful,” said Lee. “Back in the day, I calmed my mind by listening to songs. Now, I purposely listen to exciting music to stop excessive nervousness.”

“Top-class athletes must maintain that game sense in training, too,” said Lee Sang-heon, 41, national team coach for alpine snowboarding. “Lee Sang-ho used to be a go-getter, training without rest. Lately, he has the time to control his training and focus on the subtleties that really matter.”

For Lee, a native of Jeongseon, Gangwon, the PyeongChang Games is a great opportunity to realize his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.

Phoenix Pyeongchang, where the snowboard events will be held, is similar to his own backyard. But doing it, he believes, will depend on mental just as much as physical acuity.

“I will train to the point of boarding the PyeongChang Olympic slopes with my eyes closed,” he said. “My younger brother, Lee Sang-jun, 17, is a judoka. I intend to get a gold medal in PyeongChang for snowboarding in 2018, and then my younger brother will get one in the Tokyo games for judo in 2020. I want us to be the first siblings in history to conquer the Winter and Summer Olympics.”

BY SONG JI-HUN [enational@joongang.co.kr]