KOREAN NATIONAL SPORTS FEST 2011 – Lee puts Busan back on top

Lee Hyo Jung has still got it.  The Olympic and Asian Games gold medallist topped off a great season at home in the first year of her retirement from international […]

Sports Festival women's team gold medallists Busan (Samsung Electromechanics Women's Team). Left to right: Kang Hae Won, Park So Ri, Hwang Hye Youn, Seo Yoon Hee, Kim Min Seo, Lee Hyo Jung © Don Hearn for Badzine

Lee Hyo Jung has still got it.  The Olympic and Asian Games gold medallist topped off a great season at home in the first year of her retirement from international competition.  On Wednesday, she followed up her National Sports Festival women’s doubles title by leading her Samsung Electromechanics team to the team gold for the first time since a run of three at the beginning of the millenium.  Lee Yong Dae and Cho Gun Woo (pictured below) did the same for their home province of South Jeolla, while Ulsan wrapped up both high school titles and Incheon and Seoul took turns in the university division finals.

Story and photos: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Suwon

It was somewhat ironic that Samsung was taking the title for Busan.  Not only is Lee Hyo Jung the only Busan native on the roster, but also the Samsung team now trains mainly in their Suwon headquarters not far from the NSF venue, to which it moved just a year after the team was founded in Busan in the mid-1990s.  Furthermore, Samsung clinched the team title, as well as the individual title, with a women’s doubles win by Lee Hyo Jung and Kim Min Seo over Busan natives Ha Jung Eun and Park Sun Young (pictured above).  Ha and Park, who were representing Seoul as members of their Daekyo Noonnopi team, at least made it closer in the team final, taking one game from the towering Kim and Lee, who finally held on to win 21-19, 17-21, 21-19.

Key to Busan’s win, however, was the singles, where both teams are very strong.  Daegyo’s own tower, Kim Moon Hi, suffered a shock loss to Kang Hae Won and then Samsung’s Seo Yoon Hee (pictured below) won the battle of former national team stalwarts when she edged out Lee Yun Hwa to set up her doubles team-mates for the shutout.

Samsung had a much tougher time getting past 2009 winners Daegu in the semi-finals.  The ladies from the Korea Ginseng Company (KGC), who were all under their head coach Yoo Gap Soo in high school in Masan, pushed the Busan team to five matches in their tie.  Bae Youn Joo had put KGC up with a win over Hwang Hye Youn but Bae Seung Hee was unable to best Kang Hae Won and Busan’s pairings of singles and doubles specialists proved superior, as Bae Youn Joo and Lee Se Rang (pictured above), could not handle Lee Hyo Jung and Hwang Hye Youn.

The men’s division is always difficult to call.  The Seoul team was again without the services of Park Sung Hwan, who sat this one out injured after missing the last two because of his military service.  Lee Hyun Il did his job in singles in the first round tie but his doubles pairing with Beijing bronze medallist Hwang Ji Man (pictured below with Lee Hyun Il) could not keep Seoul in it.

Even more understrength was the defending champion team of North Jeolla.  Last year, they were nearly unbeatable, with the likes of Park Sung Hwan and Han Sang Hoon, but this year, Jung Jae Sung (pictured above) was left to try his hand at singles in an attempt to lift his home province.  Despite taking his first game against Kim Yong Hyun, Jung was unable to take a point for his team and the South Chungcheong Province team began their march all the way to the finals.

South Chungcheong’s stalwarts include a couple of high school team-mates of Jung’s.  Kim Byung Wan and Kim Sang Soo (pictured below), were nearly flawless all week.  In addition to besting Jung and Kang Myeong Won in the individual semi-final, they won every one of their matches except the men’s doubles final against Lee and Cho and in the team final, they were the only ones to score a point against the victorious South Jeolla boys.

The university finals saw matchups between Seoul and Incheon in both the men’s and women’s divisions.  As in the women’s pro division, the men’s university division final proved to be an anti-climax after a very competitive semi-final round.  Seoul, represented by the Korea National University of Physical Education (KNUPE), had taken three hard-won points from Dongeui University in the semis but had a surprising 3-0 win over Inha University in the final.  Lee Dong Keun (pictured above) was flawless all week but Choi Young Woo (pictured below) had struggled in the quarters and semis and was up against the formidable Kim Sa Rang in the first singles of the final.

Choi, like team-mates Kang Ji Wook and Shin Baek Cheol, was an all-round superstar in high school but began to concentrate on doubles after graduating from juniors.  Last fall, he and Eom Hye Won reached the final of the Korea Grand Prix but he failed to make the national team cut this past spring.  His opponent, Kim Sa Rang, was a singles specialist until last winter, when he teamed up with Kim Ki Jung to score a handful of upsets in international men’s doubles before also being dropped from the national team in both singles and doubles.  Though on a high after winning the men’s doubles gold in the NSF individual competition, Kim could not handle a fired-up Choi, who finally took it 25-27, 21-18, 21-12.  Lee then took the second singles point easily before Kang and Shin batted cleanup to give KNUPE the 3-0 victory.

KNUPE’s women’s team had already shown the superiority of its A team in the individual women’s doubles final, when Kim Ha Na and Yoo Hyun Young had won in three over Jang Ye Na (picture above) and Kim So Young.  Also, Incheon had no one capable of taking down KNUPE’s singles ace, world #12 Sung Ji Hyun.  However, without a reliable domestic ranking system, there is no way to guarantee that the top players play each other, as is guaranteed in BWF-certified team events and the matchups clearly favoured Incheon University.  After national team backup Kim Soo Jin was sacrificed to Sung, Eom Hye Won (picture below) was left to take the crucial second point against her regular doubles partner Jang Ye Na.

Eom is no stranger to singles competition.  Her win in the 2008 German Junior final was one of several over Sung Ji Hyun in their junior days.  However, Jang is definitely her team’s go-to woman and she stepped up to give Incheon the lift.  Although Kim and Yoo took the first doubles point easily, Jang was still able to get the better of Eom in the second doubles, as well, to tie it up and give Jung Ji Song the opportunity to clinch it for Incheon.

Last year, Ulsan got its first NSF badminton golds ever when Beomseo High School mounted the podium for the first time.  The Beomseo girls showed that their talent pool is still deep even after the graduation of last year’s star Choi Hye In by taking a second straight team title, as well as a second straight girls’ doubles gold at the National Sports Festival.  First year hopeful Kim Hyo Min (picture above), who was a double under-17 titleist at the Surabaya Cup this year, in addition to finishing runner-up with sister Chan Mi at the German Junior, was undefeated this week.  In Beomseo’s toughest tie, against Jeonju Seongshim Girls’ High School, Kim actually had to play two matches back-to-back and won both to give her team the 3-2 victory.

Ulsan was not satisfied with just girls’ titles this year, however, and also sent Munsu High School to the top of the boys’ division.  Jung Ki Hwa, who has not been sent to a junior tournament this year since his 3rd round loss in Germany to Lucas Claerbout, was the stalwart who took two points in the 3-2 contest against North Gwangmyeong High School and national team player Lee Hong Je.  But the winning point was snatched by Kim Dong Ook (pictured below) in the third singles.

Complete Results:

Elite Division

Men’s Team
South Jeolla: 3, South Chungcheong: 1
Women’s Team Busan (Samsung): 3, Busan: 0

University Division

Men’s Team Seoul (KNUPE): 3, Incheon (Inha U.): 0
Women’s Team Incheon (Incheon U.): 3, Seoul (KNUPE): 2

High School Division

Boys’ Team Ulsan (Munsu H.S.): 3, Gyeonggi (North Gwangmyeong H.S.): 2
Girls’ Team Ulsan (Beomseo H.S.): 3, Gwangju (Gwangju Sports H.S.): 0
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