Kim Dong-moon in Calgary: A Badminton Backwater or a Place with Potential? There are few more recognizable figures in the badminton world today than Kim Dong Moon. Yet he is […]
ImageKim Dong-moon in Calgary: A Badminton Backwater or a Place with Potential?

There are few more recognizable figures in the badminton world today than Kim Dong Moon. Yet he is currently labouring in relative obscurity, far from his home country, his new wife, and also from the badminton spotlight. In fact, the two-time Olympic gold-medallist has been in Canada since January and has found that the Canadian badminton scene is helping him to shore up one weak point of his game: English.

By Don Hearn.  Photos : Badmintonphoto

Life after Athens

Kim effectively retired from international competition following his gold medal performance with Ha Tae-kwun in the Athens Olympics.  He did, however, return to the national team briefly in May of 2005 to aid in Korea’s defence of its Sudirman Cup title.  But 2005 was a turning point for Kim as he began looking overseas not for tournaments to compete in, but for opportunities to learn and coach.

Kim entertained scouting efforts by several countries including France, the Philippines, and New Zealand.  Among the most attractive prospects was the opportunity to head up a planned World Training Centre in the United States for the then-IBF.  Due to a series of delays in the opening of the centre, Kim realized that he would be able to use 2006 as a re-training year. This realization coincided with Kim’s selection late last year by the Korea Sports Council as one of five top Korean athletes to be supported for a year of overseas study.

Of course, the concept of Korea sharing its badminton expertise with the rest of the world is nothing new.  With Park Joo-bong coaching in Japan, Lee Jae-bok in England and Kim Young-man as the head coach at the BWF’s World Training Centre in Saarbrucken, Germany, North America seems the next logical place to take Korea’s brand of fast-paced badminton.

The Korea Sports Council’s effort indicates a recognition that the rigours of being a world-class athlete today do not leave much time for language education.  Kim admits that the only time he had spent abroad prior to this year had been for tournaments, when he was always in the company of the entire Korean team.

Trying to Learn English in EFL Central

Canada was an obvious choice for learning English.  It is now the most popular overseas destination for Korean students.  Vancouver is certainly Canada’s English-as-a-Foreign-Language(EFL) mecca and it was there that Kim began his English study in one of the many private language schools.

Vancouver is also home to a Korean-Canadian population in the tens of thousands.  Two major Seoul newspapers have subsidiary papers there and both of these did stories on Kim Dong-moon within days of his arrival in Vancouver.  They reported that some local businesses had even set up a badminton club to give exchange students and the local Korean community the chance to play with the superstar.

Despite the warm welcome, Kim confessed to being frustrated with the lack of progress he was making in English even though he was living with an anglophone family in an English-speaking city.  Says Kim “My school in Vancouver was almost seventy percent Korean students!”  In fact, his plight is familiar to many Koreans who struggle, even in a place as large as Canada, to find true English immersion, away from the temptation to use the mother tongue.  After six months in Vancouver, he was ready for a change.

Closer to the Centre

A few months ago, Kim decided to move further inland to Calgary.  A smaller city with a much smaller Korean population, Calgary just happened to be the heart of Canada’s badminton community, with two private clubs in particular that have thriving elite badminton programs.

One of these, the Calgary Winter Club, has had something of a Korean connection for some time now.  Through an ex-Korean national team player who is based at the club, they have, in the past, invited big-name players such as Lee Dong-soo, Yoo Yong-sung and Yim Bang-eun from Kim’s Samsung Electromechanics team in Korea.

Kim Dong-moon has found that through volunteering at the club, he has been able to improve his English through practice in a very natural setting.  Kim is very upbeat about the progress he is making in the language these days.  Indeed, he is now capable of giving interviews in English.  More than half of his communication with Badzine International for this article was in his second language.

A Very Different System

In addition to being a valuable supplement to his ongoing language study, his new situation in Calgary has given him an opportunity to see a very different approach to grooming athletic talent.  When asked to compare Korea and Canada in this regard Kim remarked, “They are completely different!  In Canada, there doesn’t seem to be any separation between the clubs and the national team.  Young players learn to play in the clubs and throughout their careers they are responsible for membership fees and paying their coaches.”

With an initiation fee of twenty thousand dollars, the number of youth who have a chance of training at the Winter Club is limited, to say the least.  Kim admitted that access to badminton in his childhood was also limited, though not by wealth.  The path to elite badminton in Korea has always been the school system and at that time it was mostly poorer families whose kids ended up in sports.  However, his elementary school was one of very few in the region with a badminton team.  Even today, schools with indoor gymnasia are not the majority and for even a middle or high school to have more than two or three sports teams is very rare.

Kim said that his elementary school had teams for badminton, baseball and volleyball.  His choosing badminton had nothing to do with the fact that Park Joo-bong, hailing from the same hometown, was beginning to achieve international success in the sport.  Instead, Kim says with a grin, “I chose badminton because of the money.”  Although badminton is still not a big money sport, one cannot fault Kim’s prescience in view of his success.

What does the future hold?

Asked whether his involvement in Canadian badminton might ever extend to him winning a major championship under a new flag as Tony Gunawan did last year, Kim is emphatic.  “I am retired,” he says, flatly.  “From now on, I will be working toward becoming a university professor.  That is my dream.”

Kim’s support from the Korean government will last until the end of the year.  After that, he will be free to take the next step in furthering his career.  During the course of his language study, scouting by national teams has been on hold but Kim expects this to begin anew in 2007.

In the background of all these decisions, though, has to be consideration of how his career plans can involve being closer to his wife, Ra Kyung-min.  Kim married his long-time mixed doubles partner on Christmas Day last year and in less than a month, he had left for Canada.

“These days we communicate mostly over the phone, and the Internet,” laments Kim.  “I hope we can live together next year.  Possibly in Canada.”  Kim even goes so far as to hint that Ra, who has been to several Canadian cities, would like Calgary best.

It seems that some of the English practice Kim is getting these days comes through conversations with the Winter Club’s head professional, Dave McMaster.  McMaster, who also chairs Badminton Canada’s High Performance Committee, came to Korea with Kim in October and the two men paid a visit to Korea’s national training centre.

In fact, another coach from the Winter Club, Dave Humble, was also in Korea this autumn as coach of Canada’s team at the World Junior Championships.  Humble said that Kim obviously has a lot to offer the club, which has several promising junior players, although none had been selected to represent Canada in Incheon.

Regarding the prospect of Kim spending more time in Canada, possibly with Ra Kyung-min, Humble says “Of course, whether it’s Kim by himself or both Kim and Ra, having players of that calibre involved with your program can only be a good thing.”

No doubt this is a sentiment shared by people throughout the badminton world.  For now, Canada is the place where Kim Dong-moon will continue developing his ability to help those people and where he will contemplate the next step to take on his own career path.

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @ badzine.net