Kim Dong Moon spoke to Badzine recently from his alma mater Wonkwang University, where he is hoping to begin his new career as a university professor in early 2012.
By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent. Photos: Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto, and Don Hearn
After five and a half years in Canada, two-time Olympic gold medallist Dr. Kim Dong Moon is back in the nation of his birth, ready to embark on a new career. He was preceded by several months by his wife and former mixed doubles partner Ra Kyung Min, who returned to Korea in early 2011 to take a job as head coach of the Daekyo women’s professional team.
While preparing in the southern city of Iksan, Kim is separated not only from his wife and children in Seoul, but also from his Canadian charges, Pan Am Games gold medallists Toby Ng and Grace Gao, who have had now a series of visits to continue learning from Kim and sparring with some of Korea’s top players as they continue on their own trail to the London Olympic Games (see related story here).
Kim spoke to us in the Wonkwang gym about his experience with Canada and Canadians and about his own future at the university.
Badzine International: First off, how is it to be home?
Kim Dong Moon: Well, overall, the cultures of Korea and Canada are so different, so I can’t help but feel more comfortable back in Korea. Plus I am so much closer to my family now.
However, things are still not settled. I am still waiting for finalization of details surrounding my acquiring a position as a professor here at Wonkwang University.
BZI: What would you say is the most important thing you learned from your time overseas?
Kim: English! That was the main thing I learned. I couldn’t speak it at all when I left Korea. I also got exposure to the Canadian system but English is where I gained the most, because I had to learn English to the point where I could communicate naturally with English-speaking players and coaches so it gives me a broader experience.
BZI: Do you think the order in which you did it – finishing your career as a player, learning English, then becoming a coach – was the best option?
Kim: Actually, it was very difficult this way. At the time that I left for Canada, I had been working as a coach for the Korean national team for about nine months and I had to drop everything and go to Canada to learn English. It wasn’t possible for me to try for a coaching opportunity abroad without the language skills.
During my playing days, I guess I didn’t think it was impossible to begin studying English but I knew it would take a long time and I didn’t get around to it. Still, I think I could have enjoyed my playing career more if I had able to speak English.
BZI: What is the biggest difference between coaching Canadian players and coaching Koreans?
Kim: The Canadians, for the most part are weaker in the fundamentals while the Koreans are normally very strong with basics so it makes for an easier starting point. So Toby and Grace, for example, their foundation was lacking so it takes time to build that up.
BZI: So what do you see as the future for Toby and Grace?
Kim: Well, I think their immediate goal is to qualify for the Olympics. For Toby, this might be the last time but Grace is still young and she could play in one or two more. Hopefully, they can qualify but I don’t want them just to qualify, but to perform better in a bigger event. They also want to be national team coaches and they want to teach kids or even older people properly.
Now it’s harder for them because they don’t have their own coach. Also, when they’re training in Canada, there is no one to pay attention to their bad habits or even their training time. The first obligation is school or family, not badminton. For players in Korea or some other places, though, badminton has to be the first priority. So I told Grace that she could move to Korea and train here with me or in a better training group, that’s the most important thing.
In Canada, Vancouver seems to be the best training base but there still isn’t a top-level coach there and no one will pay attention to the players’ bad habits. Toby and Grace agree with me. They don’t want to go back to the other training system but it’s up to them to choose the best way.
I’ll continue to do what I can until the Olympics, if they need my help but their training base would have to move here. I can’t go back to Canada again.
Or they can come and train here with me right before tournaments and then go on to participate in them.
BZI: Have you seen any improvement in the Canadian system? Is there potential?
Kim: I think the association needs to make changes in the system. Otherwise, if the players want to change things, it will never happen. I’ve asked them many times, that they need a team contract with a sponsor and the association needs some background of power.
There are some people who want to change things a little bit but no one is interested in making the big changes.
BZI: You said that today’s Canadian players were weak in fundamentals but for young kids coming up in Canada these days, is there a chance that they can learn properly and develop?
Kim: Well, in Canadian culture, if a child takes up badminton at age 7, the main concern is that they have fun. Otherwise, they might not come back. Then after a few years, when they might decide to do badminton seriously, they already have bad habits and nobody will want to do what it takes to correct them because they want to do well in tournaments and it still important that they be having fun.
In Korea, it’s so different because we play for the school or for the city and they pay for everything. I never paid for coaching or for a racquet. The focus was on the team events and so we were competing against each other because if we weren’t the best in our team, we wouldn’t be playing in tournaments.
BZI: While in Calgary, you also had a Wonkwang University player there training with you, Lee Haeng Ham. How did that come about?
Kim: Haeng Ham, too, had a problem in that he had weak fundamentals. He has a big smash so he was helpful the national team mainly as a sparring partner. On the Korean national team, everyone has a strong foundation so no one was working on it with him. He came to Calgary to play an exhibition event with the Wonkwang team and he decided to stay and train with me and also to learn English.
BZI: Wonkwang has a strong badminton tradition that you are part of. Is it your aim to coach here as well?
Kim: No. My focus is just on teaching my major, exercise physiology. I’ll be involved in badminton but I’m not coaching.
BZI: When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career as a professor and not go into coaching?
Kim: When I was in high school. In Korea, after retiring as a player, being a professor is a kind of prestige job, since higher education is so important.
In addition to teaching, though, I will also be involved in promoting my department to recruit high school students. Wonkwang University is a big school in this city but it still isn’t a big draw nationwide. Everybody still wants to go to school in Seoul
BZI: Will your fame as an Olympic gold medallist help to attract new students?
Kim: Yes. It will help a lot. And I think that I have a little different experience from other badminton players so in addition to students wanting to know about my career, there is the fact that I had my PhD back in ’05, before I went to Canada.
All along, the faculty at Wonkwang have known that being a professor was my dream and they have supported me a lot. The head coach here, Choi Jung, has been especially supportive. He has been like my connection and he was always interested in my plans and my choices and my research. When I was in Canada, I was in touch with him almost every day so the university has always been assured that I would be coming back here to teach.
BZI: Other former top players in Korea have taken coaching jobs and some of them overseas but has it been particularly difficult for you to decide where you’re going, since your wife Ra Kyung Min is also now in great demand as a coach?
Kim: I moved to Canada to learn English. I didn’t expect I could even coach there but when I was there, a lot of Canadian players needed my help and my coaching style. When I was coaching Canadian players, it helped me learn English and I learned about Canadian culture.
I had a lot of problems there, too. I thought there should be a national team training together but Canada is such a big country and we couldn’t get everyone together. Toby and Grace are the only ones who ended up training with me full-time, though, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
Being at the Calgary Winter Club itself was a great experience, too, and I made a lot of good friends. A group from the club just visited Korea, actually. They made a personal request to me and I gladly agreed since I had got so much benefit from the club. They had a bus sponsored by Yonex and they toured around Korea for 10 days and had some events with Korean players.
We had a group of Koreans who visited Canada too, and the Winter Club provided them with homestay accommodation. We hope to keep these kinds of exchanges going for at least a few more years.
BZI: Even though you are back in Korea, it is still hard to have the family together then?
Kim: We only get together on weekends. My wife and kids are coming down on the weekend. She knows I have to be here. Even though I’m not teaching yet, I’m writing research papers and having meetings. She is coaching at Daekyo so she has to be in Seoul. So it’s just on weekends that we get together. If my kids have some event in their kindergarten, I might go up for one or two nights, but that’s it. It’s hard for us because we are still young and our kids are still young.