Lee Hyun Il hasn’t missed a beat

Korea’s Lee Hyun Il enjoys a good run at home as he prepares to take his one-man show back on the road. Story and photos: Don Hearn (live in Jeonju) […]

Korea’s Lee Hyun Il enjoys a good run at home as he prepares to take his one-man show back on the road.

Story and photos: Don Hearn (live in Jeonju)

Korea’s most successful men’s singles star Lee Hyun Il is back from retirement a third time and hopes his performance at the Korea Gold in Jeonju will push him back into a successful international career.

After a decisive win against Korea’s current #1 Lee Dong Keun in Korea’s summer championships, Lee Hyun Il has just beaten Indonesian veteran Simon Santoso in a one-sided contest and he looks strong to take back the title he won in 2011.

“I’ve never really stopped training and the match experience I’ve had here in Korea and in the team tournaments in Southeast Asia earlier this year seems to have kept me sharp,” said Lee after his victory over Santoso.  43“Plus the instincts and experience I have gained throughout my career have never left me.”

Lee first left the Korean national team in 2007 citing weariness with the demanding lifestyle.  Although he was back that time after just a few months, he retired again following each of the next two Olympic Games, in both of which he came up short in the bronze medal match.  But for a third time, he is returning to international competition, only this time the national team is not part of the equation.

Lee is one of several players who are quite happy staying with badminton while at the same time welcoming the end of their life in the national training centre, where even those with spouses and children are required to live in a common dormitory and share a room with a team-mate.

“Actually, the training itself is just as demanding whether it’s the national team or my pro team.  The big difference is the off-court part because on the national team you live together and travel together with your team-mates nearly all the time.

“I’ve been getting some really good training with my Saemaeul team-mates.  Park Sung Min is a very good player and Hong Ji Hoon and Lee Dong Keun play for the Seoul Yonex team and they train right next to us so I can spar with them.

“Those three are all on the national team but with two big domestic tournaments this fall, they’ve been back playing with their own teams for much of the last two months so that’s been good preparation.

“It’s a totally different lifestyle just being a member of pro team, though.  I don’t have to live with my team-mates at the training centre.  I can live at home, with my family.  There’s a lot more freedom.  I have a wife and a five-year-old daughter so this is really important.”

However, unlike some of the other ‘internationally retired’ players who were in action this week in Jeonju – such as Kim Min Jung or Han Sang Hoon – Lee Hyun Il has cast his net beyond Korea.  In charting a course independent of a thriving national team system, he is following a trend already familiar in places like Malaysia and Indonesia but virtually unheard-of in Korea.

“I registered for the Malaysia International Challenge next week in Kuching but because I have no ranking points, I’m way down on the reserve list so I think I’ll just have to cancel.

“From next year, though, I hope to enter more, starting with some smaller ones until I can get some ranking points, and then moving on from there.

“I had a good experience with both the Djarum league and the Axiata Cup, with good results – my team actually won the Indonesian league – so I hope to play those again.  Because these are not BWF ranking events, it was much easier to get approval from the Association to play in them.

“I was also asked to participate in the Indian Badminton League but I couldn’t due to conflicts with some tournaments here in Korea.  I hope to next year if the scheduling works out.  The China League teams are only looking for top-ranked players, though, and I wasn’t invited.  I think some other Korean players are interested in playing it.

“If I go abroad for tournaments, it won’t be with any team.  I’ll be on my own with just a manager who is not part of either organization.”

Looking ahead to his next match against Tian Houwei (pictured), the man who beat world #1 Lee Chong Wei in Australia last spring, Lee said, “Oh that was him was it?  I don’t think I’ve ever even seen him play before but I won’t be focussing on who he’s beaten.  Ultimately it will be the match he and I play that matters.

“The younger players are bound to have the edge on me in power and stamina.  I’ll just have to try to rely on my experience.”

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