Koreans ready for Indonesian Superliga

Winners of two national titles this fall, the Korean Ginseng Corporation (KGC) Badminton Team is set to show the prowess of Korean women’s badminton in the novel new format for […]

Winners of two national titles this fall, the Korean Ginseng Corporation (KGC) Badminton Team is set to show the prowess of Korean women’s badminton in the novel new format for the Indonesian .

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Don Hearn and Badmintonphoto

On Sunday, Indonesia’s Djarum Group will again kick off its Superliga badminton team competition, in Surabaya.  This year sees much more international participation in the event, not only with import players playing for the Indonesian clubs, but with entire teams entered from Japan, Malaysia, and Korea.

KGC is one of Korea’s most internationally active corporate badminton teams but it too will be trying something new in sending its players overseas for a team competition.

“At first, it was the that approached us with the suggestion that we participate,” said KGC Head Yoo Gap Soo (pictured below).  “We won the National Sports Festival last year so it made sense to have KGC go for this event.  But we had already agreed before I understood the tournament format allowed up to two ringers per team.

“In Korea, we have rules like that for our soccer league and so forth, where they have a league with a full season, but never for badminton.  Then I saw the rosters and I thought ‘Wow, this is some serious talent’.  The Indonesian teams have brought in players like Juliane Schenk and Porntip [Buranaprasertsuk].”

Korea is, of course, known for having one of the world’s strongest badminton teams and in a women’s team competition that features no Chinese shuttlers, it might normally be expected to be the main contenders.  However, with two strong Japanese teams entered and the Indonesian teams featuring top players from Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere, Yoo is just hoping that his team, which does have its own big names – including three who featured on the 2010 Uber Cup-winning squad (pictured below) – will make a good showing.

“We have been training very intensively for this event, doing some training sessions with men’s university and high school teams.  Once Bae Yeon Ju and Jung Kyung Eun come back from the national athletes’ village, it will make our training that much more effective, too.

“I think we have a pretty strong chance in two of the singles and we should be able to get at least one doubles point in each doubles.  Kim Ye Ji is very young but because she did well in the Hwasun Grand Prix Gold, her is higher than Bae Seung Hee’s and she will have to play second singles.

“I’m already starting to get concerned about this.  None of the teams we have to face in our group matches are weak so I have to weigh the risk of fielding an under-strength team against the need to keep top players fresh for the knockout round.  Some of the other teams won’t have to worry about this but I will as we depend so much on a few key players.  But I have a lot of experience with this, having made similar decisions before and with a girls’ high school team before that, often with many of the same players.

“From what I can tell, the players themselves don’t seem that nervous about the tournament.  I am, though.  As the tournament gets closer, I’m starting to worry about who I’m going to field and how to get the players enough training on site, how to get a chance to play with Flypower shuttles before the event starts, that kind of thing.”

Bae Seung Hee’s outlook is consistent with her coach’s estimation: “I have next to no international ranking points and it’s been a while since I’ve played overseas so I’m looking forward to it,” says Bae cheerfully.  “This is the first time our team has played in a team competition overseas so it all feels new and it should be fun.” (Click here for more from our conversation with Bae Seung Hee)

Seven part of two traditions

Yoo Gap Soo and most of his players are part of two of Korea’s oldest badminton traditions.  First of all, the KGC team and the company have had three different names, but the program itself dates back to 1969.  Furthermore, Yoo and six of his eight players came to KGC from Sungji Girls’ High School in Masan, a team that was founded in the early 1960s and that has spawned many of Korea’s top female stars.

“I came here a few years ago after coaching at Sungji Girls’ High School for over twenty years,” said Coach Yoo.  “Even before I was there, it was already one of Korea’s badminton meccas but I coached some very famous players there, including Shim Eun Jung and Lee Kyung Won, both of whom won Olympic medals.

“I also coached Bae Seung Hee in high school and she was already here when I came to coach at KGC.  At the time, Bae Yeon Ju (pictured above, with Lee Se Rang) and Jung Kyung Eun were in their last year of high school so I asked them if they’d like to join my new team when they graduated.  Then the following year, Lee Se Rang’s parents told her she should definitely go to where Coach Yoo is coaching.  Then, of course, Yoo Hyun Young is my daughter so that was an obvious choice for her to make.”

Yoo Hyun Young (pictured below) is one of the first of Korea’s second generation elite shuttlers to have a parent as a coach but there have been several more since then.

“A lot of people have asked me how to deal with a situation where you’re coaching your own kid.  I just make sure that I show no bias and that I am a fair coach.  That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult but I’ve had no major problems.”

The team’s close-knit atmosphere became especially important this fall, when doubles player Jung Kyung Eun returned to the KGC fold upon being suspended from the Korean national team in connection with the Olympic match-throwing incident.

“The team spirit is high and we were able to get Kyung Eun to concentrate on playing in the two domestic team tournaments in the fall so she could concentrate on training and playing and not dwell on the fact that she had been suspended,” said Yoo.  “And of course, we entered her in this tournament before her suspension was lifted.  Otherwise, she couldn’t have competed until the German Open a month from now.”

KGC tends to compete overseas more than most of Korea’s corporate teams, participating in one nearly every year.  Recently, they have been doing so in tandem with the Miryang City Hall men’s team.

“Our badminton team represents Daegu in the annual National Sports Festival and when we’ve won, Daegu has provided us with financial support for our training so we’ve tried to use that toward one international tournament each year,” says Coach Yoo.  “It can cost up to $20,000 to send the team abroad for one tournament so we can’t play any more than that but it is good to do it when we have the chance.

“We’ve travelled overseas with the Miryang team three times now.  The connection there is that their coach, Kim Young Su, went to the same high school and university as me.  In fact, many years ago, when I was first at Sungji Girls’ High School in Masan, I asked him if he would be interested in joining the new men’s program at Miryang, which is nearby.  Now, he’s like a badminton godfather in Miryang.

“We set up the badminton program there about 24 or 25 years ago and Shon Seung Mo was the first big name it produced, followed by players like Lee Jae Jin, Hwang Ji Man and Son Wan Ho.”

There’s smoke, but no fire

KGC is a new private corporation that was only recently split off from the Korea Tobacco and Ginseng Corporation but it is only coincidence that they are going to the Superliga sponsored by Indonesia’s biggest tobacco interest.

“KT&G and Djarum are both tobacco companies but there is no affiliation between the badminton teams,” explains Yoo.  “Actually, though, the reason we ended up at the Surabaya Challenge last year is that one of the executives from our parent company is now based at Trisakti, which became a KT&G subsidiary recently and which has a factory in Surabaya.  It is a competitor to Djarum.

“We did pretty well in Surabaya.  Bae Yeon Ju and Jung Kyung Eun were training for the Olympics so we just took our other five players and we got one title and had two other finalists.”

One event, three systems

In one way, the Djarum Superliga gives KGC a rare opportunity to test the prowess of Korean badminton teams against those in other countries.  The Japanese system, in particular, seems similar on the surface but Yoo admits it is still an unknown quantity.

“We’ve never played a Japanese corporate team.  There was talk about having a challenge match with Unisys at one time but it never happened,” says Yoo.

“When I was playing for a corporate team many years ago, I worked half the day in the office and then train half the day but that doesn’t happen any more.  I don’t know that much about the Japanese corporate team system but these days, in Korea, corporate badminton teams don’t work that way.  Officially, our players are KGC employees but their job is only playing on the badminton team, not working in an office or factory.”

The Djarum Badminton Club is a very different model, however.

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KGC Coach Yim Bang Eon (left) and singles player Bae Seung Hee

“Fung Permadi coaches at Djarum now and he has been to Korea many times and even speaks some Korean so when we were in Surabaya last year we got together for several meals and he was describing their club to me,” said Yoo.  “They have over 120 players and 15 coaches and they have tryouts for the players when they are very young and then they nurture the kids’ talent themselves.

“That’s very different from how it works in Korea but it’s very difficult to comment on which method is more effective.  First of all, the education system in Korea is so different so integrating a system like that would not be possible.  Also, compared to Indonesia, Korea has so many sports that are more popular than badminton so attracting players is more difficult in the first place.”

Yoo Gap Soo is proud of his team’s accomplishments but he tries to be realistic about his team’s chances of success in Surabaya next week.

“Even though we may have won several team competitions in Korea, it’s always a very tight competition whenever we play Daekyo or Samsung so although we hope to do well, we’re going to have to take each tie as it comes and be ready.”

The KGC Ginseng Corporation team members are: Bae Seung Hee, Kim Seul Bi, Yoo Hyun Young, Jung Kyung Eun, Bae Yeon Ju, Lee Se Rang, Park So Min, Kim Ye Ji

For more on the Djarum Superliga, click here

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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