At No. 7 in the women's singles badminton rankings with a slew of international victories, Sung Ji-hyun admits she remains a work in progress.
Sung, however, has been improving at a rate that has the South Korean national team camp buzzing with talks of an Olympic medal for the 24-year-old in Rio de Janeiro in August.
She's fresh off a Badminton World Federation (BWF) Grand Prix victory in India last week. During an open training session in Seoul Thursday, Sung said she was pleased to get the Olympic year off to a winning start.
"I hope to keep it up through Rio and go for the gold medal," Sung said. "I have some catching up to do against Chinese players, as far as speed and stamina. I am trying to compete at a higher speed and focus on strengthening my attack."
Sung comes from a badminton family. Her father, Sung Han-kook, was the national team head coach at the London Olympics four years ago, and her mother, Kim Yun-ja, was an accomplished player in the 1980s with six medals at the Asian Games and two bronze medals at the world championships.
Ji-hyun hasn't quite lived up to her considerable promise yet, and her brimming confidence notwithstanding, Sung will have her work cut out to reach the Rio podium.
She's currently No. 5 in the BWF Olympic rankings, determined by points earned from tournaments during the Olympic qualification period of May 4, 2015 to May 1, 2016. After Carolina Marin of Spain at the top, three Chinese occupy the next three spots before Sung.
The South Korean said she feels she is experienced enough to overcome hurdles.
"I think I've become quite savvy," she said. "I think I have a better idea of how to manage my game."
Head coach Lee Deuk-choon said Sung is much better conditioned than in the past, and she's also made headway in her mental game.
Sung said she experienced some rough patches after the Incheon Asian Games in 2014. She was knocked out of the quarterfinals in the singles, and lost her singles match in the women's team final against China, as South Korea took home silver.
And some words of wisdom from Bang Soo-hyun, the 1996 Olympic champion in the women's singles, helped Sung out of her funk.
"She reached out and offered me some valuable advice," Sung said. "And she said, 'You haven't done well because you're not trying hard enough and you're not desperate enough.' That was a huge wake-up call."
Bang is the last South Korean woman to win an Olympic gold in the singles, and Sung will try to end the drought at 20 years.
"Bang talked a great deal about her own preparations for the Olympics," Sung said of the former star who also won an Olympic silver in 1992. "She's been quite encouraging and she's helped me stay on the right track." (Yonhap)