Ra Kyung Min and Lee Hyun Il were among the veterans who came up short in the quarter-finals of the team event at the 2009 National Sports Festival.  All of […]

Ra Kyung Min and Lee Hyun Il were among the veterans who came up short in the quarter-finals of the team event at the 2009 Sports Festival.  All of Korea’s top stars were in the running for medals for their provinces but there are only a few left now, as both upsets and injuries have taken their toll.

Story and photos: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent, Live in Daejeon

Two-time World Champion Ra Kyung Min (pictured) made her Korean comeback debut in September at the Fall Team Championships.  Ra’s team, Daekyo, placed 2nd there when Ra and Lee Yun Hwa failed to clinch the winning point against an unheralded pair from Pocheon.  But that event took place in the relative obscurity of Hwacheon, a village tucked up near the North Korean border.  On Saturday, the lanky 32-year-old veteran and mother of two, made her first appearance at the Korea’s 90th Annual National Sports Festival, held in the metropolis of Daejeon.

Ra, who was using these two tournaments as a testing ground to decide whether a full comeback to international badminton might be feasible, had sat out the individual competition and Daekyo, representing Seoul, received a bye into the team quarter-finals.  There, she met up with none other than her former partner, Lee Kyung Won.

Lee’s Samsung team is representing the city of Busan but their chances of returning to the final, where last year they lost to Daekyo 2-3, fell into doubt when singles star Hwang Hye Youn went down with a foot injury in the individual women’s singles quarter-final (for more on Hwang, see HERE).

The Busan and Seoul women’s teams traded the first two singles points in their quarter-final Saturday as Ha Jung Eun took care of Jung Youn Kyung and Seo Yoon Hee enjoyed a surprise win over Lee Yun Hwa.  Seo has been off the national team since the summer of 2007 but Lee, though still a member of the national team, has been struggling with injuries for almost a year now.

Next up, Park Sun Young, who is to partner Kim Min Jung in the upcoming Hong Kong Open, played with Ha Jung Eun against Lee Hyo Jung / Jung Youn Kyung.  Lee/Jung met a little resistance in the second game but otherwise dominated, winning 21-12, 17-21, 21-11.  After the end change in the deciding game, Coach Gil Young Ah repeatedly shouted at Lee Hyo Jung not to smash and to rotate away from the back.  Just as in last year’s final, Lee was down to play 3rd singles.

Lee was spared the singles exertion, however, as Lee Kyung Won and Seo Yoon Hee held on to win the second doubles 21-14, 21-19 against Ra and Joo Hyun Hee.  Both Joo, 27, and Ra began the match with bandaged calves and Ra’s movements seemed less than fluid on court.  But it was Joo who was forced to stop and don a compression sleeve and who was limping in pain after the narrow defeat, which came on a four-point run from Lee Kyung Won’s serve.

Ra, sporting a skirt and sleeveless top – fashions that were unheard-of in badminton the last time she competed – showed she was still able to leave her opponents flat-footed on occasions and that she is capable of some blistering smashes.  There is still no word on whether she will be considered for the national team, however.  The rest of Korea’s top doubles players are headed south to Hwasun on Wednesday for a twelve-day evaluation event (for more on that event, see HERE).

The Busan team next faced Gyeonggi Province, mostly formed from members of the Pocheon team which won the Fall Team Championships last month.  Again, it was Seo Yoon Hee accounting for two points in the 3-1 victory that sent Busan to the final.

On the other half of the draw, Daegu, represented by KT&G, advanced past Choongnam and then Jeonnam.  Singles star Bae Youn Joo incurred her coach’s ire on Saturday with an unexpected loss that was later compensated for by three easy wins by her teammates.  She made up for it by teaming up with Thai Open semi-finalist and high school teammate Jung Kyung Eun (pictured above) to take the final point in Daegu’s 3-0 win over Jeonnam.

Autumn Lees are Falling

In the men’s elite division, Lee Yong Dae and Cho Gun Woo again failed to cope with the formidable Choongnam team.  Kim Sang Soo, who had beaten Lee/Cho twice last year before he and Kim Yong Hyun were twice put in their place by the young stars in 2009.  Sang Soo was back, though, playing with Kim Byung Wan and devasting Lee/Cho 21-12, 21-12 while Kim Yong Hyun (pictured) and Kang Myung Won sealed the victory with a 23-21, 21-16 win over Han Sang Hoon / Jung Hoon Min. 

South Gyeongsang Province, represented by Miryang, advanced with a singles surprise against North Gyeongsang in what was a repeat of last year’s final.  The only active member of the national team on either side, Jang Young Soo, had suffered an injury in the individual men’s singles semi-finals and he was sorely missed by the northern team.  Shon Seung Mo got South Gyeongsang off to the expected positive start with a win in the first singles but then Lee Hyun Il went down tamely to Heo Hoon Hoi.

Next, doubles ace Lee Dong Soo, playing with Hong In Pyo, had his way with Shon and Park Ji Hwi but Lee Jae Jin and Heo Hoon Hoi (pictured) got the better of Choi Min Ho / Eom Ji Kwan 21-13, 16-21, 21-17.

Lee and Heo were the heroes in the semi-final, as well, beating Lee’s former partner, Hwang Ji Man, and former All England champion Kang Kyung Jin to propel South Gyeongsang into their second straight final.

For news on the individual competition, please CLICK HERE

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