Korean handball icon Woo Sun-hee announces retirement

By Yonhap
  • Published : Nov 10, 2017 - 15:13
  • Updated : Nov 10, 2017 - 15:13

South Korean handball icon Woo Sun-hee announced her retirement on Friday, ending a 15-year international career highlighted by trips to three Olympics.

Woo, 39, said Friday she decided to end her career after the conclusion of the National Sports Festival last month.

She first made the national team in 2001 and represented the country at the 2004, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and also at four Asian Games from 2002 to 2014.

In this file photo taken on Aug. 14, 2016, South Korean handball player Woo Sun-hee leaves the floor after her team was eliminated from the group stage at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics despite a 28-22 win over Argentina at Futures Arena in Rio de Janeiro. (Yonhap)

Woo was a key member of the 2004 Athens Olympic team that made an improbable run to the final. South Korea lost to Denmark in a shootout to settle for silver, but the underdog team's inspiring tale of beating the odds became the subject of an award-winning local film, "Forever the Moment."

She helped South Korea to gold medals at the 2002, 2006 and 2014 Asian Games.

Woo missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to a knee injury sustained just three months before the competition, and watched South Korea take bronze. She returned for the 2012 London Games but South Korea lost to Spain 31-29 in the bronze medal match.

She was called up again for the national team duties for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics only months after giving birth to a daughter, but South Korea failed to make it out of the group stage for the first time in its Olympic handball history.

Woo, who started playing handball at age 11, said it feels "awkward" to not be playing anymore.

"I've been playing this sport for almost 30 years, and the retirement hasn't hit me yet," Woo said. "I feel like I am still a player at heart."

Woo said the gold medal match at Athens 2004 is the one game that sticks out the most. The teams were tied at 25-25 in regulation and were still deadlocked at 34-34 after overtime. They needed a shootout to determine the winner, and Denmark outscored South Korea 4-2 there.

"I still have such vivid memories of that game, like it happened yesterday," said Woo, who scored four goals in the final. "Winning the silver was still a huge honor. But there were talks afterward of some biased officiating. I thought maybe we got robbed of a gold medal."

Woo had been a player coach for her club since 2009. She said she hadn't given much thought to becoming a full-time coach, and added she'll have to study the game more to become a serviceable instructor.