Korea's Unknown Sports Star
By Prof. Andrew Dunne
Kim Yu na. Park Ji-sung. Son Yeon-jae. Park Tae hwan. Ask any Korean whether they have heard of these athletes and they will respond with a resounding yes. However, if you ask about Gennady Golovkin, you will likely hear 몰라요, which is of course Korean for I don't know.Who is Gennady Golovkin and why should Koreans care about him? He is a professional middleweight boxing champion and he is half Korean. So, in short, Korea has another successful athlete to add to their growing list of sporting heroes. Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, or Triple G as he is commonly referred to, is undefeated in 31 fights as a professional. More impressive, he has the highest knockout or KO ratio in middleweight championship history, having knocked-out all but three of his opponents. In other words, he has knocked out over 90% of his opponents. His latest knockout victory came just days ago, with a 2nd round stoppage of Mexican Marco Antonio Rubio. Not only can Golovkin throw a powerful punch, but he seems somewhat immune to the punches of others. He has never been knocked out or even knocked down in 381 fights, both as a professional and amateur. He finished his amateur career with an outstanding record of 345 wins and only 5 losses. During which time, he amassed a nice collection of prizes. He won gold medals at several international competitions including the 2002 Asian Games in Busan. He also won a silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. If you were to meet Golovkin in person, you would likely not assume he was a professional boxer with menacing fists. His physique is not overly imposing or muscular. Nor does his face show any signs of punishment. And, he always seems to wear a smile. On top of all that, he speaks four languages: Kazakhstan, German, Russian and English.Golovkin was born in 1982 in Kazakhstan to a Russian father and a Korean mother. Unfortunately, however, not too much is written about his mother, except that she was an assistant in a chemical laboratory. It would certainly be interesting to know more about her and Golovkin's Korean roots. Golovkin's father was a coal miner. Sadly, he passed away earlier this year. Growing up, Golovkin also lost two of his brothers. They served in the Russian army and were killed in battle. Golovkin presently lives in Germany with his wife and son.Perhaps Gennady Golovkin can help revive interest in boxing among Koreans. A lot of people, especially younger people, may not know that boxing was once quite popular on the Korean Peninsula. A number of older Koreans that I have spoken with recall that friends and neigbors used to gather together to watch fights on television.And, they had good reason to be excited. Korea has a rather decorated boxing history. There have been several Korean world champions, both male and female, including two that have been inducted into the prestigious International Boxing Hall of Fame. However, boxing's popularity in Korea declined in the 1980's largely as a result of the tragic death of Kim Duk-Koo, who fell into a coma in the ring and died a few days later. The 2007 death of former champion Choi Yo Sam was another blow for boxing in Korea. He also collapsed in the ring and later died, after winning his 32nd fight.Another reason for the decrease in popularity of boxing in Korea was the country's meteoric rise in economic development. Boxing has long been regarded the world over as a "poor man's" sport, owing largely to the fact that boxing gyms were often located in neighborhoods of lower economic status, in addition to participation costs being relatively inexpensive compared to many sports.Boxing was, therefore, a popular sporting choice for the economically disadvantaged. However, as Korea's economy improved, so too did sporting options. Other, less dangerous leisure pursuits, such as baseball, soccer, and golf became more accessible. Although boxing may have lost its place as one of Korea's most popular sports, there is certainly still interest in the sport here. For instance, the AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships take place on Jeju Island in November. And, of course, the next time Gennady Golovkin fights, Koreans can celebrate the champ and cheer 대~한~민~국~ clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. After all, he is part Korean. The writer teaches at Chosun University in Gwangju. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Prof. Andrew Dunne, who serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times, has been teaching at Chosun University in Gwangju for several years. While as a university student he carried out studies on body modification practices and published papers on the subject in academic journals. He attended university in Dublin, Ireland, but grew up on the west coast of Canada in Vancouver, B.C. He can be reached at the following email address: email@example.com