The national table tennis team participates in continental and international competitions under South Korean coach Kim Hyun-Song. It is said that as soon as he stepped foot in Ulaanbaatar City, he infused the national team with young and fast athletes and trained them hard. They participated in the World Student Universiade last July in Chengdu, China, and the Asian Championship that was held in September in Pyeongchang, South Korea. After coming from there, he went to China and participated in the “Hangzhou-2022” Asian Games. This gentleman, who started his sports career at the age of seven with table tennis, has many years of experience as a coach of the national high school table tennis team in his country. We invited him as a guest in our interview corner, who sets high demands on his athletes during his training, but who is like a friend in ordinary times outside the training.
It has been a long time since you came to our country. Let's talk about how Mongolia made you feel on the first day when you arrived in Ulaanbaatar.
Before I came to Mongolia, I studied a lot about its history, heritage, culture and customs of the people. I heard a lot of information about the city of Ulaanbaatar, so I set foot in high spirits and was very excited. When I got off the plane, I felt that Mongolia is similar to Korea in some ways. Since coming here, I have worked with the national team as planned. I found my way to communicate with young athletes and get along well with them very soon. So, training has been ongoing normally. What I'm aiming for now is to train them well and make athletes successful.
The date of the Paris Olympics is approaching. It is noticed that sports fans want a foundation to help their athletes participate successfully.
The Paris Olympics is the biggest goal for athletes. As for me, I have been preparing hard for the national team since this month. The goal is to successfully participate in the Olympic qualifying competition to be held in Thailand this coming May. Before that, there are four tournaments to be held in Europe (Croatia, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia) from the end of March to the middle of April. As a coach, getting your athletes to participate without skipping a beat will be the main preparation for the tournament in Thailand. If we get Olympic qualification from there, we will set our foot in Paris in July.
As soon as you arrived, you coached the national team in three major competitions. When participating in the “Hangzhou-2022” Asian Games, did your athletes observe and learn the lessons?
Young athletes participated in the table tennis tournament of the “Hangzhou-2022” Asian Games. For some, the festival was their first major competition. Perhaps it was an experience of seeing the future for them rather than success. There are 14-15 and 16-17-year-old athletes in the national team. In five or 10 years, they will achieve even higher than planned. It is still too early to say that their skill is at the internationally competitive level. They believe that after five years, they will show different results if they prepare properly. In this Asian Games, they did not play worse than expected for their age. I have previously taught table tennis to elementary, middle, and high school students across the country. When I came to Mongolia and worked with the national team, there was not much difference in teaching methods. Table tennis is highly developed in South Korea. It is going rightfully among the leading countries as well. I am trying to get closer to that system. When the training time of the national team increased, at first it seemed like a lot of pressure, but now I gradually got used to it and it's different now. The atmosphere of the team also started to reach the desired level. In order to prepare professional athletes, the foundation of children should be well prepared from an early age. That way, we will keep up with the development of modern table tennis.
Did you visit table tennis clubs and see how the children practice when you meet the coaches?
Shortly after accepting the job of coaching the national team, I had the opportunity to visit the table tennis clubs operating in Ulaanbaatar and meet with the coaches. At that time, I compared it with my own country. South Korea has a large population, but few children play table tennis. Mongolia has a small population but I saw many children playing tennis in its clubs and realized that this sport is developing. There is a huge difference between the two countries. It can be played at an average, if not world-class, level if put into the right system and trained by professional coaches.
You have seen for the first time how winter is in Mongolia. Do you find it hard to cope with the long cold season?
The only thing I was afraid of was winter. It's better than I imagined before. My house is not far from the club where the national team trains, so I haven't felt the freezing cold yet. I think Mongolian winter is pleasant.
It's hard for anyone to be away from home. How much do you miss your loved ones?
The national team participated in the Asian Table Tennis Championship in Pyeongchang, South Korea at the beginning of September. Three months later, I went back to my home country again and did joint training. Since I have been to my country twice, I miss my family less.
I heard that you became friends with table tennis when you were a child and started your career as an athlete.
I have worked as a coach for more than 10 years. At the age of seven, I first became friends with table tennis and played until I became a university student. At that time, I was playing in the city's professional team and went to serve in the military. I hadn’t played much since then. After being discharged from the army, I taught in elementary and university, and then in high school. During my coaching career in the country, I led high school and university teams to the level of competing at the championship. Also, elementary and middle school teams won the II and III places. The athletes of my coached team have achieved success more than once, so it would be a long story to tell them all. Some of them now play for professional teams. Also, my relative's cousin, who plays table tennis, is doing well. As an athlete, he won a university championship. As a high school student, he won a major national competition.
While having a conversation with you, I thought about ending my career as an athlete a little earlier and working as a coach.
When I was an athlete, there were few professional teams. There was a time when, unless you played really well, you ended your career and followed your path in life. When my generation decided not to play anymore, they worked as coaches at the university, while the best ones stayed with the national team and continued their sports career. Compared to that time, it's different now.
South Korean athletes are selected from the same competition as those from their southern neighbors and join the national team, right?
It is not easy to join the national team. There is a lot of competition in China, South Korea and Japan. Competing for the national team is a huge responsibility. If you play poorly, you are immediately eliminated. It is difficult for an athlete to be at the desired level of success in the midst of competition. Four to five players are selected from the best athletes and join the national team. Now there are national teams I and II. But it's not easy to be part of them.
At the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics held in South Korea, Yu Nam-Gyu won the men's singles category in his country and became the champion. I read in the press that his success brought about a change in the development of sports in the country at that time.
He won the Olympic Games of that year in his country, won the honorable title of champion, and brought gold medals to his country. The athlete who played the best and achieved the best of my generation is Joo Sae Hyuk, who won a silver medal at the World Cup in 2003 and a bronze medal in 2011. He now coaches the national team. The Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 influenced me to play table tennis. That's why there was a lot of competition among our generation. Since an Olympic champion was born in my country, children and young people are motivated to play tennis. That year, with the Olympics, there was a big change in sports. In addition to tennis, other sports began to develop rapidly. Since then, our country has supported its athletes well. In the past, national table tennis teams did not often receive support from the state. Since then, many sports halls and palace complexes have been built, and the government has spent the money generously. In short, the “Seoul-1988” Olympic Games revolutionized South Korean sports. The process of organizing and preparing for a competition in that country is very important. The results are also felt. It's even a big problem after the competition. In the time leading up to the organization, many people spend a lot of work, such as coaches, specialists, officials preparing the athletes for success, and building the hall. But the following effect leaves a great result. “Kangwon-2024” Youth Winter Olympics are now being held in South Korea. Sometimes he takes time out and watches his country's athletes with interest. This year, Busan will host the World Table Tennis Team Championship.
I feel good that you are trying to help our athletes succeed. You are open, fun and friendly.
I have a sister. My father was a sports lover. I played tennis as a hobby. When I was a kid, my school had a national table tennis team. Therefore, it influenced me to study persistently. For me, until high school, I was humble and not very open to others. In fact, I was an introverted child. Military service changes a person in many ways. Now I can communicate freely with anyone I talk to. Korean men learn from life during their two years and two months of military service. There is a limit to everything from sleeping, waking up, resting, eating, and working, so it nurtures and educates any person. When Korean youths are discharged from the army, they have become real men who do not lose their toughness and endurance. Even if the athletes go to the army, they have learned to bear the stress of the competition, so they feel less pain. Some young people may find it difficult to get up early in the morning and run and jump. I didn't find military life very difficult.
The free time you spend in your country has probably changed a little since you came to Mongolia. How do you manage your time to relax at times when you have full of work.
There are many leisure activities in South Korea, such as hiking in the mountains, fishing, going on trips with friends, watching sports competitions and competitions. So far, there has been no unnecessary stress or frustration after coming to Mongolia. I like to walk when I have free time. After training with the athletes of the national team, they eat in a nice place, and on weekends they go out into the fresh air and walk together in the mountains. According to my observations, there are quite a few people who speak Korean well in Mongolia. So, I probably won't have many misunderstandings later. Recently, I have been interested in the Asian Cup soccer match and have been watching it on YouTube. As my main job is being a coach, I am studying the development of world tennis by watching the big tournament in Qatar and “World table tennis”.
Mongolians celebrate their Naadam Festival in large numbers during the summer. You just watched the festival, right?
I really liked the Mongolian Naadam Festival. It is said to be the most beautiful holiday that Mongolian people enjoy in large numbers. When I sat down to watch horse racing, archery, and power wrestling, I couldn't control my interest. I tried shooting with a bow and arrow. The material, design, and construction were very unique. The little children even got excited when they saw the horses racing and galloping. I was very proud of their bravery, learning and skills.
Mongolian sports fans are putting their trust and hope in you. Therefore, what would you recommend to the national team?
The national team doesn't like me much during training (laughs). I think training hard every day is no different to them doing the hardest work. In general, there are no athletes who like coaches. Being an athlete myself, I know this well. During my stay in Ulaanbaatar, I will selflessly contribute to the development of table tennis in Mongolia and try to make the athletes of the national team participate in competitions and achieve success. I heard about the Korean coaches who worked with the previous national team. Before coming to Ulaanbaatar, I met more than once coach Kang Don Hun, who coached the current national team and got information about his training methods. We are in constant communication.