What do Kim Yuna, Park Jisung, and Son Yeonjae all have in common? They are all renowned young athletes who have made Korea known to the world. Their great feats have brought about the admiration of many fans in Korea and inspired young students to follow in their footsteps. Sports are one way the world can unite. Do you know any world famous athletes? The Sookmyung Times interviewed three international students to learn about popular sports and athletes overseas.
Q1 Which is the most popular sport in your home country?
It would have to be soccer, and Vietnamese people show great enthusiasm at soccer matches. Whenever there is an international match outside Vietnam, Vietnamese will travel to foreign countries to watch the match and support our country’s national team by waving our national flag and singing loudly our national anthem. You may be surprised to learn that in Vietnam, there are coffee shops that will only air soccer matches for its customers. At those coffee shops, there are big screens onto which matches are projected, so that everyone in the café can see the match. Also, whenever our team wins, people celebrate tremendously by throwing a huge party at the café.
Bicycling is the most popular sport in my home country. We are very thrilled by every Tour de France, the annual bicycle championship held in France and nearby nations, each July. Huge crowds of bicycling fans go out to see the race though it is hosted in different countries. People get so excited when bikers reach the finish line, separated by only a few seconds. Not only do we enjoy watching the game, but we also have many amateur cyclists, and many people in Belgium enjoy riding bicycles in their leisure time.
People in Kenya are very interested in sports, so there are many popular sports like cross country, soccer, and rugby. Especially, people’s interest in rugby has increased greatly in recent years. Since 2005, we have cultivated many young amateur players, and they have reached the final many times. I think this has come about because of changes to our sports education. We now have many schools specializing in running and soccer, and all students should participate in a cross-country marathon event once a semester.
Q2 Who is the most famous athlete in your country?
In Vietnam, it would be Le Cong Vinh. He got famous because of the number of goals he made during the ASEAN Championship Cup. He was even scouted by a Western country and Japanese soccer teams. After marrying a well-known Vietnamese singer, the couple soared to national celebrity fame. They are both talented and good-looking. If I were to compare them to another famous couple, their fames would be similar to David and Victoria Beckham. At the moment, he is really admired for his clean career and scandal-less lifestyle.
In Belgium, Eddy Merckx is the most well-known sports athlete. He was a cyclist in the 1960s to 70s. He won many competitions like the Tour de France and became a world champion. Sadly, the later part of his career is clouded by doping scandals. During his cycling days, there was no way to determine if an athlete was using drugs. Later, once it was found that he used drugs to enhance his ability, he was barred from competitions. Despite all the scandals, Belgians are still proud of him.
There are many famous athletes in Kenya, but choosing just one, I’d say Paul Tergat. Paul Tergat is probably the most famous marathon runner in Kenya. He has set Olympics records and won at New York and Boston marathon. Interestingly, he didn’t know he had a running talent until he was a high school student. It was only after joining the police academy and doing some drills that he learnt he was gifted at running. Despite starting the sport quite late in life, he is one of the most popular athletes in Kenya due to the admiration people have of his effort.
Q3 If your national athlete fails to earn a medal at a competition, how is he or she treated? How do you feel?
I think athletes may receive huge criticism if they do not earn a medal, but the coach will receive much more than the players. Most coaches in Vietnam are under a lot of pressure to win, and they may even be fired if they fail too often. That’s what happened in my country several years ago. In my opinion, I think match outcomes are not only related to skill and proficiency but also on luck of that day. For instance, a player might get injured or have psychological pressure, so I believe that we should not blame them for not earning a medal.
In my home country, we do not criticize the team or the player for not earning a medal. It is a pity that the athlete was unable to win, but people don’t get upset though the athlete has not come home with a medal. If they win, of course we are very happy, but if (s)he doesn’t win, we don’t blame the person. In my opinion, judging players by their medal count is something related to culture. In Western countries, we don’t judge an individual but encourage success. I suppose that there are pros and cons to this, but pressuring athletes to win motivates them to do better in the future.
Even though our country’s athletes do not receive a medal, we don’t blame them. Instead, we reevaluate our national sports training system or criticize the Kenya Athletic Association, which nurtures our national athletes, in order to seek ways to improve the sports environment for Kenya players and provide them the means of accomplishing their goals. Personally, I would like to alter blaming athletes according to medal count and encourage athletes to success by motivating them to do the best they can.