I hope to put my wealth of experience to good use in international competitions and team events.”
Korea Badminton has world-class players in each discipline, including Ahn Se-young (World No. 2) in women’s singles, Baek Ha-na and 메이저놀이터 Lee So-hee (No. 6) in women’s doubles and Seo Seung-jae and Chae Yu-jung (No. 4) in mixed doubles. The emergence of Kim Won-ho and Na Sung-seung (ranked 331st), who threaten Choi Sol-gyu-Kim Won-ho (9th) and Seo Seung-jae-Kang Min-hyuk (16th) in men’s doubles, is also favorable.
However, men’s singles is a traditional weakness. South Korea hasn’t won a medal in the men’s singles at an Olympic or Asian Games since Son Seung-mo (silver) at the 2004 Athens Games and Park Sung-hwan (bronze) at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. In the intervening years, world stars such as Lee Hyun-il and Son Wan-ho have emerged, but they have been disappointing in other sports.
However, South Korea recently finished as runners-up at the 2023 Sudirman Cup in Suzhou, China. Yonex’s Jeon Hyuk-jin (No. 58), the top men’s singles player, has shown signs of rebounding. He went 2-1 at the Sudirman Cup against Cholan Kayan (Great Britain – 234th), Genta Nishimoto (Japan – 2-0, 13th), and Jia Jia (Malaysia – 0-2, 10th). While it’s not a stellar performance compared to his peers in other sports, it’s good news for Korea that he’s bounced back after being ranked as high as 17th at one point.
Jeon Hyuk-jin was a gold medalist in the men’s team event at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and showed great promise as a youngster. However, he struggled with a knee injury for more than two years, dropping to 990th place in 2017. Badminton fans have a soft spot in their hearts for him, as he has begun to show competitiveness on the big stage again after his struggles.
In a recent interview with Sports Donga, Jeon Hyuk-jin said, “I had high expectations because I had good results in team events such as the Thomas Cup. I thought about playing confidently throughout the tournament,” he said, adding, “I’m always looking forward to the 2024 Paris Olympics. I know it’s hard to qualify with my current world ranking, so I’m working harder.”
Although she is far behind her juniors such as Lee Yoon-kyu (210th) and Kim Sang-yeop (217th), she is trying to keep up with them. Even though he is the highest-ranked male player in the national team, he still feels that he needs to improve his ranking. Immediately after the Sudirman Cup, he played well at the Malaysia Masters, where he faced the likes of Soo Pen (Malaysia 2-0, 68th), Christo Popov (France 2-1, 35th), and Rasmus Gemke (Denmark 1-2, 19th). “We always had expectations for him, but it’s important how he approaches those expectations,” said Kim Hak-gyun, the national team’s head coach. “The men’s singles is helping other sports for the first time in a long time. I think it will get better in the future.”
The immediate focus is on earning ranking points to qualify for the Paris Olympics and performing well at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. Korean badminton suffered its first ever medal defeat at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games. The men’s singles and team events will be crucial for veteran Jeon Hyuk-jin.
“I beat Nishimoto at the Sudirman Cup,” said Jeon. Six years ago, Nishimoto was ranked lower than me, and now he’s in the top 10, and he’s still ranked high.” “My dream since I was a kid has been to get into the top 10. I think it’s worth a shot now that I’m back in shape. I will prepare fiercely for the Asian Games and every competition I compete in, aiming for the top spot.”