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Ex-Olympic judo champion finds coaching harder than competing

In Barcelona in 1992, when women’s judo made its Olympic debut, South Korea’s Kim Mi-jung was crowned the inaugural champion in the -72-kilogram division.

Turn the clock 32 years forward, and Kim, 53, will have a full circle moment this summer in Paris, where she will be coaching the South Korean women’s national team.

Kim, who took over the national team in 2021, will be making her third Olympic appearance, having served as a referee in Athens in 2004.

“When I look at these athletes train and compete, it takes me back to when I was an athlete myself,” Kim said Thursday during the national team’s open training session at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, 85 kilometers southeast of Seoul. “It’s been a difficult journey for them so far, and I am grateful that they have been following my lead all along.”

Sporting more than a few strands of gray hair, Kim broke into a smile and said, “Honestly, I think it was easier being an athlete than being a coach. I sometimes find myself in a rush and g
etting ahead of my athletes. Keeping myself in check has been really difficult.”

Following Kim’s gold in 1992, Cho Min-sun won the women’s -66kg title at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. South Korea has been shut out of women’s judo gold since then.

As much as Kim wants to see the drought end in Paris, she was also careful not to place too much burden on her athletes.

“Since I won a gold medal as an athlete, I want to coach one of my athletes to a gold medal too,” Kim said. “It’s possible, but there’s no guarantee. And I think if you want something too much, it can backfire. So I just want to create an environment where my athletes feel comfortable and can compete to the best of their abilities.”

Asked why she thought South Korea hasn’t had an Olympic women’s judo champion for nearly three decades, Kim said she has noticed a collective lack of confidence plaguing the team.

“I remember feeling worried about the team when I first came aboard. But after a few international events, I could see that my athletes cou
ld more than hold their own and could be really competitive,” Kim said. “Working on techniques is obviously important, but I think instilling confidence in them is even more crucial.

“When one athlete wins a medal, then I think the floodgates will open,” Kim continued. “It will have a positive impact on the rest of the team. Once you see your teammate win a medal, you say to yourself, ‘I’ve trained just as hard. If she can do it, I can do it as well.'”

Japan, the birthplace of judo, continues to reign supreme in the sport, while a few European nations, including the upcoming Olympic host France, also have a long track record of success.

Kim, who fended off opponents from Japan, Britain and Poland, among others, for her Olympic gold, said South Korea’s approach to rivals from those countries hasn’t changed.

“We are not as technically savvy as Japanese athletes, and we have to try to outlast them,” Kim said. “We are not as strong as European judokas, and we have to rely on our superior skills and techniques
. We must have the best of both worlds.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency