woori yuna

A Messenger of Hope

Posted in athletes, competitions, names by wooriyuna on February 11, 2009
After the SP After the LP

After the SP · After the LP

As a competitive athlete always striving to do her best, Yuna may have felt a little disappointed when she wasn’t able to successfully land her triple loop jump. Even though the outcome wasn’t what she wanted, she expressed relief for going for the jump and was content with her gold medal. As people watched from Korea, Yuna’s win at 4CC felt like a victory for them. This feeling of a vicarious thrill and fulfillment is one of the main reasons why Yuna is so popular and loved in Korea. At a time when the country is going through severe economic hardship, her triumphs and wins give hope to everyone back home. Yuna’s accomplishments are a source of hope and inspiration to those suffering and even if only for a brief moment, watching her compete and relishing in her victory allows them to feel good.

I talked about before Yuna being labeled the Nation’s Hope. Yuna and the symbol of hope have become even more synonymous after 4cc. Now she is being called a 희망 메신저, messenger of hope. Her ubiquitous presence in Korea is like a 희망 바이러스, hope virus.

Even political leaders point to Yuna as a source of hope. Park Geun Hye, 박근혜, is the former Grand National Party (sort of like the conservative, Republican party in US politics) chairwoman. In short, she lost the presidential bid for her party in 2007 to Lee Myung Bak by a very small difference. Lee eventually won the presidential election by a landslide later that year, but his approval ratings are at an all time low and Park Geun Hye still maintains a bevy of supporters. Another run for the presidential bid in the future is not out of the question for her. Anyway, after the ladies’ long program and Yuna won her gold medal at 4CC, Park updated her 미니홈피, minihompy, with a picture of her in skates during her youth. (A minihompy is a personal website, kind of like a Korean Facebook or Myspace. It’s short for mini-homepage and officially called Cyworld. It is not uncommon for actors, singers, sports stars, and even politicians to have a minihompy and update it regularly.)

Park Geun Hye in skate boots.

Park Geun Hye in skate boots.

Park Geun Hyes message on Cyworld.

Park Geun Hye's message on Cyworld.

봄이 오는 소리와 함께 우리의 김연아 선수가 ‘4대륙 피겨선수권대회’
에서 우승을 한 소식이 국민들에게 희망과 용기를 주고 있듯이…

The sound of spring coming and the news of our Yuna Kim’s victory
at 4CC has given the people of our nation hope and courage…

Hope and courage… these are the feelings Korean people get whenever they watch Yuna skate. To outside viewers, it looks like crazy, obsessive fan worship, but it is so much more than that for the Korean fans. It’s not only because she’s good that she has so many fans, but Yuna’s stumbles and successes are also a symbolic meaning. Even though Yuna stumbled in the LP and fell on her triple loop, everyone watching in Korea was moved and inspired to see Yuna pick herself up right after and carry on strongly the rest of her program. After the competition, media articles came out asking readers, 내 인생의 트리플 루프?

What is the triple loop in your life?

What is the triple loop in your life?

Even though Yuna fell, watching her get back up and continue on moved the Korean viewers. The media asked them to name the triple loop in their own lives and like Yuna, practice getting over it.

When hard times come, it is only natural for people to look for a leader to give them hope and encouragement. Yuna is not the first time this country has appointed a sports figure as a source of hope. Eleven years ago, the Korean people looked to Se Ri Pak as a messenger of hope. The similarities between Yuna Kim and Se Ri Pak are uncanny and did not go unnoticed by the Korean media.

1998 U.S. Open

1998 U.S. Open

This image is forever sealed into the memories of Korean people who were alive at that time and witnessed it.

Many fans remember seeing Pak’s feet when she took her socks off for a shot from a pond. Her feet were white compared to her legs, showing the tan she had gotten from her extensive practice on golf courses. It was evidence that Pak had worked hard for her success.

While Korea was receiving assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1998, Pak’s first major title became a source of national pride for a country going through a difficult time.

Pak, inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 2007, gave people hope and encouragement, as she grabbed attention by winning the U.S Open at a time when South Korea was being helped by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the dark days of 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Pak dominated Korean newscasts and newspapers last week. After her win the country’s newly elected leader, Kim Dae Jung, sent presidential congratulations. Regular citizens held parties to celebrate Pak’s victory, the first in the U.S. by a Korean golfer. “Since our country had its financial problems, Se Ri is even more important to Korea,” says her manager, Steven Sung Yong Kil. “They look at her for inspiration. Everyone expects her to be the Number 1 player, and they put a lot of pressure on her. When she goes back to Korea, or even when she eats at a Korean restaurant in America, everyone knows her.”

Source one, source two, source three.

Does this sound uncannily similar to what is happening now with Yuna? It is not simply because Yuna is a great athlete or because she’s the first figure skating star in Korea or because Se Ri Pak was the first golf star in Korea that these two women were and are so adored. It’s because they both came at a time when the people were looking for more than just another star. They were in need of hope and the successes of Se Ri Pak and Yuna provided a channel for people in Korea to escape reality for a brief moment and feel comfort and the encouragement of hopefully finding success in their own lives, like their beloved sports stars.

Se Ri a media darling at home and abroad.

Se Ri a media darling at home and abroad.

Many are quick to say the Korean fans are caught up in a rush because Yuna is the first figure skating star of their country. They say when Yuna retires, interest in the sport will quickly fade and eventually interest in Yuna will die out as well. However, let’s look at Se Ri Pak‘s career and how much her success in golf has made an impact in Korea. First, even though Pak has had some slumps in the span of her career thus far, her popularity remains high and she is still regarded as the greatest Korean golfer ever.

This is a clip from a talk show Se Ri Pak was a guest on in January 2008. In the long history of this popular talk show, her episode remains in the top 5 highest rated episodes. Once a legend, always a legend. The epitome of her popularity was during the IMF bailout, but there is no denying even ten years later, she’s still currently one of the most popular sports stars in Korea.

You can thank her for that Asian invasion

You can thank her for that "Asian invasion"

Second, about interest in the sport dying… Golf? Korea. Golf? KOREA. Se Ri Pak first joined the LPGA Tour in 1998 and there was only one other Korean on Tour. Ten years later and there are about forty-five or more Korean women on the Tour. It’s a universally recognized fact that Se Ri Pak has changed the face of women’s golf. When Pak won the U.S. Open in 1998, it was before the break of dawn in Korea. A nationwide interest not only in Pak, but in the sport of golf was instantly born in that moment. The number of Korean golfers on the field speaks for itself. Most of the Korean women on Tour now will pinpoint exactly the time when they watched Se Ri Pak winning the U.S. Open on their TV screens as the moment when they picked up golf or started to take the sport seriously.

Our golfing leader.

Our golfing leader

The question is, will Yuna Kim have the same effect? There is no sure way of predicting the future, but judging from the crowded ice rinks and crowded figure skating classes, I would venture a guess that one day, Korea could become a powerhouse in figure skating.

In addition to being a hope for the nation, a media darling, and the first countrywoman of their sport, Se Ri Pak and Yuna Kim also share the similarity of being at a young age when all of these duties are placed on their shoulders.

The face of an 18 year old with a countrys hopes and aspirations on her shoulders.

The face of an 18 year old with a country's hopes and aspirations on her shoulders.

It’s great Yuna can be a source of hope for people in Korea, but more importantly, we need to remind ourselves she’s still just a teenage girl and there comes a point when putting all that hope into one person is too much.

Just a girl.

Just a girl.

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