Lee Hyo Jung at ease in new life as coach, wife, and mother

Retired doubles great Lee Hyo Jung spoke to Badzine last week, just before taking a holiday from her new job as a coach and spending her first Christmas as a […]

Retired doubles great Lee Hyo Jung spoke to Badzine last week, just before taking a holiday from her new job as a and spending her first Christmas as a mother.

Interview: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent
Photos: Don Hearn and Badmintonphoto

Korea’s Lee Hyo Jung retired in 2010, right after winning mixed doubles gold with Shin Baek Cheol at the Guangzhou Asian Games, an accomplishment she added to an Olympic gold, an All England title, a Sudirman Cup and an Uber Cup, along with numerous other international badminton titles.

Since retiring, here life and career have seen numerous changes, as she continued on at her pro team, Samsung Electromechanics first as a trainer and now as a coach.  She also married Seok Seung Ho, coach of the Dankook University basketball team, and gave to their first child last spring.

We met up with Lee Hyo Jung last week at the Samsung gymnasium, just before the team would take their break until the New Year, and she spoke about the changes in her own life and about both the recent past and the future for Korea in women’s doubles.

Badzine: What would you say is the biggest change in yourself between your days as a player and your life now?

Lee Hyo Jung: The biggest change for me has been that my mind is at much more at ease than when I was playing internationally.  I was working so hard to maintain my fitness and to keep playing well, now my mind is more at ease and so is my body.

Badzine: How does married life suit you?

Lee Hyo Jung: Married life suits me very well.  We’re living very happily, especially since we had a baby in June.  His name is Seok Yoon Je.  So now we’re very, very happy.

Badzine: Is there anything you miss about your life as an athlete?

Lee Hyo Jung: I can’t say there’s anything I really miss about the athlete’s life.  I have a husband now, and a child, we’re a family so I’m really satisfied.

I guess when I’m with the players and they’re training, I do occasionally feel ‘Oh, I should be playing too,’ I mean, such thoughts do occur to me but so far, I can say that it certainly hasn’t bothered me that I’m no longer playing.

Badzine: Is there any aspect of your playing days that you are glad are no longer part of your life?

Lee Hyo Jung: Well, in a way, the life of an athlete is a difficult one overall but it’s hard to think of one thing in particular that I’m glad to be done with.  One thing, though, might be the three-nation tours in Europe.  I don’t miss those.

In Asia, we could sometimes go for one or two events and come back and have time to rest before going abroad again but when we had to go to Europe and play in Germany, then England, then Switzerland, three weeks in a row.  That was hard.  And it’s certainly not just travelling, you see, we’re going there to play in tournaments so three countries, three weeks in a row was always rather draining.

Badzine: 2012 was your first year as a coach.  How well do you think you adapted to the new role?

Lee Hyo Jung: In a way, it’s harder being a coach.  When I was playing, the coaches told me to work on something and I just had to do it.  Now, I have to pay attention to what the players are doing and figure out what they need before I give them any instructions.

Badzine: Do you have any aspirations of coaching the national team?

Lee Hyo Jung: No, I haven’t given any thought to becoming a national team coach or anything.  For this stage in my life, I am thinking of what I need personally and I would really like to have another child so other career developments will have to wait.

Badzine: What kind of challenges do you think coaching the national team would involve?

Lee Hyo Jung: Well, here the Samsung team is more of a close-knit unit.  The coaches and players know each other and each other’s personalities very well so it’s a much more comfortable setting, really a little like a family.

The national team is, of course, more diverse and it brings together a lot of people who are already members of their own teams and it would be more difficult to get to know the players and become accustomed to dealing with all of them.

Badzine: When we asked you in 2009, you said you intended to keep playing until the London Olympics.  Did your gold at the Asian Games make you change your mind and do you regret not playing another Olympics?

Lee Hyo Jung: I don’t have any regrets about retiring in 2010 and not playing until London.  I had already informed the Head Coach, even before the Asian Games, that I was going to retire so it wasn’t the case that I just decided to because I won gold in Guangzhou.

Badzine: It seems that when you and Lee Kyung Won retired, international women’s doubles lost the last players who seemed able to beat any Chinese pair at least once.  What are your thoughts on why China is so dominant?

Lee Hyo Jung: Well, to be honest, my partners and I hardly ever beat the Chinese pairs either.  It seemed like in ten attempts we’d beat a top Chinese pair maybe once or twice.  But yes, we did have some success at least.

I think that in China, they always have their top pairs and but then their mid-level or backup pairs are always there training with them and trying to beat them and once they do emerge and start playing on the international scene more, they go right to the top and can win tournaments because they’ve already developed their skills past what the rest of the world has.

In a situation like in Korea, we have our top players in high school and as soon as they graduate to the senior stage, they have a place on the national team but they play internationally and get eliminated by the second round.  So I wonder if that in itself isn’t a key difference in the athletes’ development.

Badzine: Do you think that Korea will be able to catch back up to China in women’s doubles?

Lee Hyo Jung: I think we will still see Korean pairs catching the Chinese and winning.  Jung Kyung Eun and Kim Ha Na will be back playing internationally in 2013 and they have already taken their first major title, beating the pair that is now #2 in the world.

Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan are also playing amazingly well.  We saw how well they can play in the Hwasun Grand Prix Gold.  Even I didn’t win the World Junior title, either.  I was third in my year. [Lee lost to eventual winners Zhang Jiewen and Xie Xingfang in the 1998 semi-finals]

Badzine: What are your thoughts on what happened to the Korean pairs in the Olympics?

Lee Hyo Jung: To begin with, the whole tournament format seems off to me.  When I first saw it, I wondered why they had changed it and whether it might not cause problems.  The knockout format is much better, in my opinion.  It seemed like they changed it rather suddenly.

Badzine: As Kim Ha Na’s coach, you must have had a lot of contact with her since the Olympics.  Is she here now?

Lee Hyo Jung: No, Ha Na isn’t here now.  She’s been training with the national team since early December, but we were training her here for several months after the Olympics.  It was all very hard on her and the other girls.

She and Kyung Eun were so excited about making it to the Olympics.  There was that one tournament [the India Open Superseries] where they had to win to make it to the Olympics and they did.  They weren’t expected to win so they didn’t think they’d even be playing in London but then suddenly they won the tournament and made it to the Olympics.

So they’d both worked so hard to make it to London and then, in such a huge event, to have such a thing happen.  It can’t but be depressing for them.

Right now, I don’t know what their situation is between what’s going on in the Badminton Korea Association and the Korean Olympic Committee, but I hope they’ll be able to get back to playing in tournaments again soon.  They are young and they need to keep competing.

Badzine: Do you think it has been especially hard on them because they were disciplined much more strongly than the ladies in China and Indonesia?

Lee Hyo Jung: I don’t think that’s a factor.  It’s mostly that their Olympic dream ended in the worst way.  Of course, with the other players continuing to play and trying to put it behind them, it would be nice if our girls could do the same but they’ll have to wait.

Badzine: On a more personal note, may I ask how you and your husband met?

Lee Hyo Jung: Well, my high school coach was actually a basketball player at Dankook University, a few years ahead of my husband, who also played there and now coaches that team.  One day, when he was in Busan for a training camp, he happened to ask my coach to go golfing.

While they were playing golf, my coach thought, well Seung-ho’s tall, and so he asked him “Would you be interested in meeting Lee Hyo Jung?”

So he thinks about it and answers, “Wait, do you mean the Lee Hyo Jung, by any chance?” and my coach said it was.  At first, he was uncomfortable and didn’t want to meet me.

Badzine: Why is that?

Lee Hyo Jung: I don’t know, but he said he was uncomfortable and then later he decided he did want to meet me and we met by my coach’s introduction so that’s the story.  I had told my coach that I definitely needed to find a guy who was taller than me – that that was a necessary condition, I could not see myself with a shorter guy – and my husband is 194cm so that was covered.

Badzine: Did the fact that you were both elite athletes make things easier?

Lee Hyo Jung: Oh yes, it made everything so easy.  Right from the very start, when we first got in touch, we’d arranged to go out a week later but then there was a sudden change in schedule and he found out he had to go to a training camp in Cheju Island in a couple of days so he asked if we could go out the very next day.  To me, that sort of thing was normal, I understood completely, and I said “Sure, let’s get together tomorrow, then.”

When we first met, everything clicked.  He was taller than me, and when we ate dinner and had coffee, we found that we could talk to each other so easily.  So we knew from the beginning that it was a good match.

Badzine: So will your son Yoon Je grow up to be a badminton player or a basketball player?

Lee Hyo Jung: We keep joking about this, of course, but actually, we’ve decided that if Yoon Je plays any sport it will be baseball.  He seems to have really strong thighs so it won’t be badminton or basketball for him, it will be baseball [laughs].

Badzine: In the future, when people look back to your generation and remember a player named Lee Hyo Jung, how do you want them to remember you?

Lee Hyo Jung: Well, I think it’s fine if they remember me as ‘Wink Boy’ Lee Yong Dae’s partner [laughs].  I think that maybe people abroad, like in Europe, too, might remember my name in the future and if they do, then that in itself would make me feel good.

Badzine: Do you not think they might remember you as one of the top doubles players of your era?

Lee Hyo Jung: Well, if they were kind enough to remember me in that way, that would be very nice indeed.

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