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One last chance

London 2012: Veteran handball player continues to chase Olympic dream

Some dreams die hard, and for national handball player Yoon Kyung-shin that dream is winning an Olympic medal. It’s a dream that he has held for the past two decades.

Yoon, 38, is undoubtedly one of South Korea’s best ever handball players. Since he first joined the Korean national team at the age of 17, he has competed in four Olympics, and six Asian Games.

South Korea won the silver medal in men’s handball at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, but at the 1992 Olympics Korea finished sixth place, and came ninth and eighth at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, respectively. Three years ago in Beijing, Korea came eighth again. 
National team handball player and coach Yoon Kyung-shin. (Lee Sang-sub / The Korea Herald)
National team handball player and coach Yoon Kyung-shin. (Lee Sang-sub / The Korea Herald)

Yet the dream of standing on the medal podium has never waned for Yoon, who was the youngest member of the 1992 squad, and then returned eight years later as the team’s veteran, only to being knocked out in the group stage.

“I know that there’s not much time left for me. This will be probably my last Olympics,” Yoon said while bandaging his feet on a bench at the Taeneung National Training Center.

“It’s like home for me. I’ve spent nearly one third of my life here,” Yoon said before the team’s training session on Aug. 9.

The veteran left attacker has been a regular fixture in the national team over the past 22 years, so training here is nothing new for him. But Yoon said he feels different this time.

Yoon has been recently appointed as playing coach for the London 2012 campaign, and is now preparing for the qualifiers in October.

“Before I was more focused on playing my handball, but now I have to look after our team as a whole,” he said.

The 2.03m-tall player, who has built his international fame while playing in Germany’s top division, says he appreciates the opportunity to serve with the national team.

“I’ve played at the very highest level and have a very good record. I think I’ve achieved everything I have wanted, except winning a medal at the Olympics,” Yoon said.

His name will not be familiar to many here due to the lack of popularity of the sport, but Yoon is a superstar among international handball fans.

Playing in Germany during the 1996-2006 seasons under Vfl Gummersbach, and for HSV Hamburg during the 2006-2007 season, Yoon has scored a record of 2,907 goals ― he is still the league’s highest scoring player. And in 2002 he was voted World Player of the Year by the International Handball Federation.

Despite being the most successful player in the Bundesliga, he came back home in 2008 to help promote the sport here. And he proved his substantial worth by helping Doosan win three successive league titles.

Ironically, however, Yoon now has no team to play with. Doosan offered an eight-month extension when his contract expired at the end of the 2010-2011 season, but he refused to sign the deal.

“It was unacceptable, because I thought I could play at least one more year,” said Yoon, a strong sense of discontent evident in his voice.

It seems, however, the frustration has given him new motivation. Yoon said that he is determined to prove himself again during the London 2012 campaign.

His body, he says tapping his ankle, is still doing well, but he knows his time is limited.

“But I’m not ready to call it a day,” he said.

One of the big reasons why he wants to play for the national team is the country’s first-ever handball stadium ― capable of seating about 5,000 spectators ― should be completed before the Asian qualifying for London 2012 in October.

“It’s a milestone for handball in this country and I’ll be happy to lead the team out to play there,” he said.

Another big dream that he has kept alive with his sweat and tears is, of course, to win a medal at the Olympics.

“The handball court isn’t a place many young athletes envision themselves being in, but if we win an Olympic medal things will change, and more youngsters will look up to us,” Yoon said.

“Even if it is just a minute that I can play, I’ll do my best because this is my last chance,” he added.

By Oh Kyu-wook (