[An Unfinished Stage for a Korean National Fencing Team in Crisis]
The South Korean fencing team emerged at the London 2012 Olympics as a rising team, winning two gold, one silver, and three bronze medals. The Korean athletes defeated their European counterparts with exceptionally quick footwork. The fencing team, which has emerged as a promising squad of the Olympic Games along with the archery team, set a goal of repeating the glory of London in Rio de Janeiro.
Nevertheless, the performances so far have left much to be desired. In the individual women’s épée event held on August 6 (local time), Choi In-jeong, Shin Aram, and Kang Young-mi from the Korean team challenged for medals, but all three were ultimately unsuccessful. Shin Aram lost the round of 32 match, Kang Young-mi lost the round of 16 match, and Choi In-jeong failed to pass the quarterfinals. In August 7, Heo Jun competed in the individual men’s foil event, but lost the round of 32 match. Seo Ji-yeon and Hwang Seon A also lost the round of 32 match, and Kim Ji-yeon failed to win her second Olympic medal, losing the round of 16 match. None of the Korean fencers have reached the semifinals so far.
The Korean national team points to the counterattack of the European fencers as the main cause of their poor performance. Six out of the seven fencers who have competed so far have been defeated by European fencers. Unlike in the London 2012 Olympics, the European fencers in Rio seem to have found an effective way to cope with the Korean fencers.
Meanwhile, the story of veteran player Jeon Hee-sook (32 years old), who joined the Korean national team 12 years ago, has touched the hearts of many. She began fencing when she was in her second year of middle school, and became known as she distinguished herself in the sport, making steady advances in her game. Despite her success, many still thought of her as the second best fencer after Nam Hyun-hee, and she remained under the shadow of Nam Hyun-hee in the eyes of many fans.
The 2016 FIE Foil Havana Grand Prix, held five months ago, was a sheer nightmare for Jeon. She injured her knee by colliding with her opponent during the game, and the doctor advised her to immediately undergo surgery, as the result of a medical checkup showing she had nearly no cartilage left in her knee. Jeon also had an anklebone surgery in her high school years, but managed to reach her current status, successfully having gone through rehabilitation. Jeon devoted herself to rehabilitation for three months after the latest surgery, and returned to the Korean National Training Center in the middle of June. As she had to focus on rehabilitation at a time when there were less than six months left until the Olympic Games, Jeon continued her training from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. to make up for the lost time.
Jeon, who devoted herself to competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics, made it to the round of 16 match, but despite her efforts lost her game against Aida Shanayeva from Russia, failing to be in medal contention. Jeon struggled from the beginning of the match, and in the end lost by a score of 11-15, although she made a valiant effort to close the gap in the third round.
Jeon’s dream was to win the gold medal for her deceased father. Although she failed to win the medal, her passion and efforts surely reached the hearts of all her fans in Korea.