South Korea is an “island” in Showdown
Date: August 24, 2023
In the list of the countries that are competing in Showdown in the 2023 IBSA World Games, it is easy to recognise that the only country outside Europe is South Korea. An island, in terms of participants, with a historic explanation that goes back to 2015, when the IBSA World Games took place in Seoul.
Until then, Showdown was completely unknown in the Southeast Asian country and got the special attention of the current head coach of South Korea, Chang Hyun Kim.
“How can they play with the eyeshades and only by the sound of the ball moving so fast on the table? My first impression was that it would be very hard to play”, started Mr. Chang Hyun. The first steps in the sport in South Korea were not easy. “I realise that it was very difficult to coach people that weren’t doing any exercise at all”, he added.
This is the common problem for all countries when a sport starts from zero: the recruitment base. Nevertheless, the path was being paved, and in eight years, since 2015, South Korea has managed to attract around 100 showdown athletes all over the country with regular competitions, and they took very seriously their presence in Birmingham for the 2023 IBSA World Games.
“We gathered 45 days before coming to Birmingham at the Seoul Gomduri Sports Centre. Six athletes, three men and three women, stayed and trained together all day. From 9am to 6pm, with two breaks of one hour each (which means seven hours per day), we played, followed videos of the strongest opponents, and worked hard to be in the most sharp condition in this competition. We have great expectations for Birmingham!”
Showdown saves lives
One of the players on the South Korean team is Min Kyung Lee. The 31-year-old masseur, born blind, was in Prague last March for her first international competition. She got the 18th place, and she is now in the 78th position of the world ranking. She described herself as a very quiet person, leaving alone, having few social skills, and doing no physical activity at all, until the day some friends invited her to try showdown.
“My life changed completely. I started to get feelings, do some running or fast walking, cry when I am happy from victories, or get sad when I lose. I feel very energetic and completely alive when I am playing Showdown. I even feel no stress at all, which is something completely mind-blowing for me”, explained Min Kyung, who doesn’t hide her passion for the game.
#Accessibility – South Korean Showdown national team in a training session next to the lake of the University of Birmingham, with the Chamberlain Tower rising from the trees in the horizon.
Right-handed, Min Kyung is counting on her very special forehand – type of strike – to get successful in Birmingham. “I am here to win”, she said, although her ranking position may make her an underdog. Mr. Chang Hyun believes that she can be quite a surprise. “She’s very focused, trained very hard these past few months since Prague”.
The expectations are being confirmed. So far, Min Kyung has already won three matches, all against strong opponents much higher than her in the world ranking: first against the Italians Piera Folino (11th) and Sonia Tranchino (4th) and against the Latvian Elize Strazdina (26th). Amazing underdog!
Min Kyung is not the current Korean Showdown champion, but was in the past. Min Sun Ahn, 43, holds the national title, and she is also on the Korean team in Birmingham.
One last curiosity: Min Kyung is a masseur, but her dream was to be a librarian. She couldn’t make it because there was no chance in her country for a blind person to get that degree. She was delighted to know that the Showdown competition is taking place at the Teaching and Learning Building of the University of Birmingham, which is actually the library of the university. The beautiful interior of the building has many closed rooms, ideal to deliver the competition in the best conditions for the sport to be played, surrounded by books, and some students having their reading period in the most quiet environment imagined.