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US Program Could Help South Korean Track-and-Field Team

  • Parke Brewer

Woo Sang-hyuk of South Korea reacts in the men's high jump qualifying round during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 14, 2016.

Woo Sang-hyuk of South Korea reacts in the men's high jump qualifying round during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 14, 2016.

The United States sits on top of the medals standings in track and field (also known as “athletics”) at the Rio Olympics, and that's no different than other Summer Games.

So it makes sense that, if a country is looking to improve its performance in athletics, it would want to learn from the best. After not seeing any of its track-and-field competitors reach the Olympic podium since the 1996 Summer Games, the South Korea Athletics Federation decided to take that step.

Kim Tae-young, a high jumper for nearly 20 years, was accepted into the inaugural class (2008-09) of the International Coaching Enrichment Certification Program (ICECP), a joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the University of Delaware. The program provides coaches with intensive education and is funded by the International Olympic Committee.

Kim Tae-young, manager of high-performance programs, South Korea Athletics Federation (P. Brewer/VOA)

Kim Tae-young, manager of high-performance programs, South Korea Athletics Federation (P. Brewer/VOA)

Kim followed that up with a six-month internship in 2009 with USA Track & Field in Indianapolis, Indiana, mostly working and studying under veteran Duffy Mahoney.

"The South Korea Athletics Federation gave him a scholarship, so it was no cost to us. It was a couple years before the World Championships there [in Daegu], so we had good relations with them," Mahoney told VOA. "Tae-young spoke decent English, so it was a home run for us."

Mahoney, 71, was a coach for 21 years before joining USA Track & Field in 1989. He has served with the U.S. governing body as its director of high-performance programs since 1999. And that is the position Kim now has with the South Korea Athletics Federation.

The job involves identifying and developing athletes, integrating sport science, working with analytics and getting in place financial support programs for younger and elite athletes.

Duffy Mahoney, director of high-performance programs, USA Track & Field (Photo courtesy of USA Track & Field)

Duffy Mahoney, director of high-performance programs, USA Track & Field (Photo courtesy of USA Track & Field)

"We worked with Tae-young on how to go about targeting aspiring athletes, especially at an early age," Duffy said. "And you need to know as an administrator how to craft your programs. We stressed that he should first aim for success in regional competitions, like the Asian Games, then down the road look ahead to World Championships and then the Olympics.

"Tae-young was like a sponge," added Duffy. "He soaked up the concepts, the data charts, the analytics. He was a great student and a wonderful young man and it was a positive experience for us both."

Now 43, Kim is in Rio with the South Korean athletics team, which numbers 15. He told VOA his country typically has 10 to 20 track-and-field participants at an Olympics, but perhaps that will increase in the future. "Our goal ahead of the Games was to try to advance to finals," he said.

In reflecting on his internship at USA Track & Field, he said, "It was the best experience in my life, especially when I got to go to Berlin and help out at that year's [2009] World Championships."

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