Korean badminton great Bang Soo Hyun was inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame – among the highest honours in the sport – in Nanning recently. The Atlanta ’96 Olympics gold medallist talks to BWF about what the honour means to her, memories of her playing years, and her thoughts on Korean badminton:
What are your thoughts on being inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame?
I am honoured and thankful to receive this award. I would like to thank God for giving me the talent and skills to get me this far.
What are the most precious memories of your playing career?
Winning the All England Open and the Atlanta Olympics gold medal in 1996.
What memories stand out in your great rivalries with Susi Susanti, Tang Jiuhong, Ye Zhaoying and your other contemporaries?
Susi was always most fitted with precise strokes. Tang Jiuhong had so much power and speed. Huang Hua had a very pretty game floating around the court using great footwork. Ye Zhaoying was a fearless offensive player with great footwork. Competition against these great players always brought out the best in me and made me a better player.
China and Korea entered international competition around the same time – in the early 1980s – and were able to immediately excel at the highest level. What in your opinion resulted in this high standard even in the earliest years?
Badminton requires tremendous amount of repetitive training daily. The Korean team was brought together as a team, living in a dormitory for elite athletes, sharing long hours of grinding training. Hard-working, dedicated coaching staff spent countless hours to find better training methods for the players and analysed scientifically to improve the technical aspects of game as well. Most importantly, the players were determined to be the best they could be under the coaching staff’s guidance.
What is your opinion of the current Korean team and what do you believe they have to do to become world-beaters once again?
We are in a transition period to younger players in all competitions. It is true that the recent results do not reflect the usual high winning percentage Korean players used to produce in major international tournaments. It is a growing pain for sure for the national team. However, we have many very promising young players training hard to make themselves better in the near future. It will be only be a matter of time before we will see better results as these younger players gather more experience in international tournaments.
Korea has produced several great doubles players/pairs over the years but comparatively fewer top singles players. In recent years, the only prominent names in singles are Sung Ji Hyun and Son Wan Ho. What in your opinion is responsible for this and would you believe this has to change?
Traditionally Korea has produced great doubles players and that in turn inspired many generations of great badminton players to pursue hard work to replicate their heroes, who happened to be doubles players. Some of these players used to play singles and doubles, but most would pick doubles since it was considered to be “easier” training than singles players – although doubles players may argue otherwise. I would like to see more singles players for Korea in the future, but I do not believe it is something anyone can force to change. Perhaps more role models for singles players, like myself, Sung Ji Hyun and Son Wan Ho, can inspire the next generation of singles players for Korea.
What do you make of the new teenage sensation An Se Young? How far do you believe she can go?
An Se Young has a bright future as a singles player for Korea. She has great physical attributes with strong mental strength. She is still young and needs more experience playing in international tournaments against strong competition. She will need to improve her speed and precision of her strokes, which will come to her as she gains more experience. She can definitely do well in any tournaments, including winning an Olympic medal.
It has been over two decades since your retirement from competitive badminton. Do you keep in touch with the sport now on a day-to-day basis?
I try to watch different players play on YouTube and read about them online like BWF (website). I have been working as a TV commentator for a Korean TV station during big events like Asian Games and Olympic Games.