Ice sledge hockey player Seung-Hwan Jung provides his critical appraisal of the South Korean team that has been widely lauded for winning the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships B-Pool.
ParaSport News: Firstly, how did you feel, when the South Korea’s ice sledge hockey team set new IPC Ice Sledge Hockey record, as scoring 15 goals in a single game at a World Championships A-Pool or B-Pool?
Seung-Hwan Jung: In reality, our team didn’t notice that we set the new record until we heard it from officials of the International Paralympic Committee [IPC], because my club team has scored about 15 goals against other teams in a single game several times at the National Winter Para-Games. Anyway, we didn’t care much about this record, as we are not here to break up the record, but to win.
ParaSport News: How did you feel, after winning the World Championships B-Pool? What did you and your team take away from this tournament?
Jung: Firstly, I felt relieved, because we will be promoted to A-Pool finally. We could gain confidence, and it was a great experience for two new players who made their international debut at the 2015 World B-Pool, particularly.
However actually, we couldn’t take away much from this tournament. The team focuses on attacking in the most games, so we didn’t have chances to check our team’s defensive abilities. We want to work on improving our weaknesses that we can find out, after competing against strong teams, ahead of the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang. But unfortunately we couldn’t do that at the March’s World Championships.
ParaSport News: South Korea also participated at the 2015 World Sledge Hockey Challenge with Canada, United States and Russia in February, and the results were not as good as the one at the World Championships B-Pool. What did you feel after contesting with three teams that won medals at the 2014 Winter Paralympics? (South Korea lost all the games against three countries. More results)
Jung: We definitely had more lessons at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge. I think that USA is the strongest ice sledge hockey team in the world at the moment. Players are young and energetic. Also they are very fast, as the team consists of many players who have both legs amputated.
In my opinion, Russia has the best level of physical strength. They also have improved in very short time, as the team was formed about 4-5 years ago, ahead of Sochi 2014. Russia has potential to grow up more, so I keep my eyes on it.
Lastly, Canada is my favourite team. They are very skilful. I have often watched videos of Canadian team to learn their passing skills. I’m looking forward to seeing their performances at the 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool at the end of April.
ParaSport News: Major international events in 2015 were finished. What are plans for the team?
Jung: I wish that our team can take part in friendly matches overseas like Russia and Canada throughout the rest of the year, if the association can afford to arrange that for us.
ParaSport News: There is still a lack of support for the ice sledge hockey team in South Korea. What is the most urgent support for the team, ahead of the 2018 Winter Paralympics?
Jung: Above all, we do need a training venue where we can train anytime, urgently. Although we are a national team that represents our country, we find that able-bodied club teams’ requests to hire ice rinks are consistently prioritized over our own. Consequently, we are wandering around the whole country to find out available rinks for us.
My club team Gangwon Provincial Office can use Chucheon Eui Am Ice Rink in Gangwon Province, but it is also very competitive to use it, as many winter sports teams including curling are waiting for their turn. Therefore, we have to reserve the venue as soon as possible, and then we can hire it for a limited time. Otherwise, we might train there at 5am or 6am, when no one skates on the rink.
Moreover, it is important for sledge hockey players to have physical strength, demanded by the sport’s intense physical combat, but we usually face many difficulties to find a gym, too. Many private gyms were not quite happy to let us exercise, because we who are athletes with impairments usually take more time to use exercise equipment than able-bodied people, so it seemed that some clients had complaints.
I envy para-athletes who play summer sports. They can train at the Korean Sports Centre d’ground [training facilities, specialized for para-athletes], following schedules, and also do extra training without a time limit. I hope that such facilities for winter para-sports are established in the near future.
ParaSport News: How do you think about the Paralympic Day which is going to be held every year until the year for the 2018 Paralympic Games? Do you believe that this event can contribute to encourage Paralympic Movement in South Korea Korea?
Jung: Through this event, people can get to know about the Paralympics which is relatively less popular than Olympics, and they have opportunities to meet para-athletes and try out their sports. Consequently, I believe that the Paralympic Day is leading change of the people’s attitude towards para-sports in South Korea.
South Korea has a history of the Paralympic Movement, as the Olympic and Paralympic Games started to be held in the same city from the 1988 Games in Seoul. Seoul 1988 contributed to development of Paralympic sports in the country, so I’m sure that I can see a similar phenomenon, after the 2018 Winter Paralympics. That’s the reason why I’m looking forward to PyeongChang 2018 very much.
Seung-Hwan Jung was named Best Forward with 13 goals and 9 assists at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships from March 15 to 21. As South Korea claimed a victory at the tournaments, it will be able to compete at the 2017 World Championships A-Pool with the second finisher, Sweden.