On the right elbow of the South Korean weightlifter Sa Jae-hyouk, you can see stitch marks from an operation he had two years ago to repair a dislocated elbow. What you can’t see is an emotional scar that runs even deeper inside the man.
The 29-year-old is getting ready to enter the men’s 85 kg competition at this year’s Asian Games, to run from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4 in Incheon, west of Seoul. That he is lifting at all ― let alone preparing for the continent’s largest multisport competition ― is in itself no small miracle.
Sa won the gold medal in the 77 kg class at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and tried to defend his title four years later in London.
Yet during a snatch attempt, his right elbow buckled while he was in the squat position, and the elbow bent in a way it’s not supposed to go.
|Korean weightlifter Sa Jae-hyouk (Yonhap)|
It was an injury so gruesome that people who saw it assumed his career was over. It certainly would have traumatized most other athletes.
Barely two years removed from the devastating turn of events, Sa is now trying to win his first Asian Games gold in his first and likely last attempt.
“I think this year’s Asian Games will be a chance for me to show people that I am really back,” Sa said during a brief break from his training at the National Training Center in Seoul last week.
“I’ve gone through so much just to be where I am today. I am happy that I am even able to lift.”
Sa sidestepped a question on how he’s been able to overcome mental blocks after such a severe injury.
“I’ve been asked that question often, and I’d rather not rehash old stories and answer it,” Sa said. “I am just honored to be where I am today, and I am going to keep telling myself I’ve made the right decision to come back.”
Sa acknowledged the physical part of the comeback has been easier than the psychological side.
“After London, I was really in despair, and people started counting me out,” Sa recalled. “I was still an Olympic gold medalist. I was quite stressed out about how people were treating me. I am much better off without that sort of stress.”
The elbow surgery after London was the seventh operation of Sa’s roller-coaster career. Through high school and college, he had four operations on his shoulders, knees and wrists. He bounced back to win the national championship in the men’s 77 kg class in 2007.
The following year, Sa won the Olympic gold in the same category, becoming the first South Korean man to win an Olympic weightlifting title in 16 years. The injury bug soon bit him again though, as Sa missed the 2010 Asian Games with a shoulder injury.
Looking back, Sa said his ups and downs have only made him stronger.
“Through it all, I have won the Olympic gold and I have had my share of frustrating moments,” he said. (Yonhap)