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Lee Won-hee: Strong, Fast, and Determined

Posted August. 17, 2004 21:54,   


The Olympic gold medalist in the men’s judo 73kg class, Lee Won-hee (Korea Racing Association), has unforgettable memories of his days as a student at Bosung High School. Once he finished his test early, fell asleep, and dreamt of winning by an ippon, becoming so excited that he kicked his desk and made his quiet class burst into laughter. That is how much he desired to win by ippon. As a matter of fact, Lee’s nickname is “the man of ippon.”

Lee won eight tournaments, both domestic and international, including last year’s world judo championship, with an impressive 48-game winning streak; 43 of those wins were by ippon. He won five matches in Athens to earn the gold medal, and four of them were won by ippon. What is Lee’s secret to winning by ippon?

First of all, Lee possesses a wide range of techniques, which is his greatest strength. Dong-A Ilbo’s sports commentator Yoon Dong-shik said, “The twisting-grab and chest-collar-grab are the two main styles in judo technique, and Won-hee knows how to use both of them well.”

Although Lee is right-handed, he is not only adept in using right-side techniques but also in using opposite side techniques such as an arm reversal-pull. His arsenal of techniques also includes a variety of hip and foot techniques. Furthermore, his agility and quick footwork permit him to overwhelm his opponent with another attack in case the former technique was ineffective.

Lee is also great at throwing the opponent off balance by continuously moving. In the final match that Lee won by ippon against the Russian Vitaliy Makarov, he connected an arm-throw with an inner ankle sweep. Flexibility is another strength of Lee, which allows him only to grant small scores in case he is caught within his opponent’s technique.

Other factors that cannot be ignored are his thirst for victory and an innate strong stamina. Lee, who could not stand being beaten by anyone, was the best fighter not only in his elementary school but also in the nearby schools, from the first grade to the sixth grade. Since a child, his father was very devoted, prepared him with oriental medicine to boost his energy, and would even cook maggots that grew in medical herbs. Hence, Lee would not be worn out by the notoriously harsh training of the Taereung Training Center.

Coach Kwon Sung-sae of the national judo team said, “Won-hee’s concentration is so strong that he would shed tears if his training does not go as he planned.”

Finally, Lee is intelligent with an IQ of 148 and very composed without getting excited. During the semifinal round against Moldova’s Victor Bivol, Lee granted Bivol a waza-ari one minutes and 24 seconds into the match when he was caught in a side rolling attack, but Lee kept his composure and won by ippon.

Yongin University Professor Kim Eui-hwan analyzed, “Lee has many wins by ippon because he beats his own anxiety and plays with full confidence.”

Nevertheless, Lee wants more than winning by ippon, according to him, “It is important to win quickly and stylishly by ippon. But if you are too focused on that aspect, you can lose your match, so I always try to keep a cautious attitude.”

Jong-Seok Kim kjs0123@donga.com