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[MEET KOREA'S STAR OLYMPIANS] Shin Jea-hwan, Olympic Gold in Men's Vault Updated: 2021-08-11 17:17:12 KST

The delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics finally came to a close having witnessed glory, despair, both the highs and lows all under the shadow of the COVID pandemic.
But for Team Korea, Tokyo this year was an opportunity for the world to see new star athletes emerge for the country.
We begin our series meeting with star Olympians from Tokyo 2020.
Today, we meet with the owner of one of South Korea's two gold medals at this year's Olympics that aren't from archery.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Champion in men's vault and the second-ever artistic gymnast from South Korea to stand at the top of the podium at the Summer Games - Shin Jea-hwan.
Jea-hwan, pleasure to have you with us.

Hello.

Congratulations on your gold medal victory in the men's vault. You brought your medal with you. It looks much bigger than it does on TV. Can you show it to us?

It's bigger than I thought it would be and it's also quite heavy.

Have you taken a bite of your medal?

No. I was told not to as all the medals from this Olympics are made from recycled, electronic waste.

How does it feel to be an Olympic champion?

It didn't even feel real at first. Only when I returned to Korea, where I was given a big welcome and all the media attention set in, did I realize that I had actually won an Olympic gold medal.
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There must have been many sacrifices along the way training for the Olympic Games. Not being able to do what you want to do. In one interview, you said you wanted to enjoy some pork belly afterwards. Have you had any yet?

No. I still haven't had the chance to.

You still haven't? I hope you get the chance to very soon.

Yes, thank you.

The vault is a four second art that requires one year of practice for each second, so four years in total. That's according to 1996 Atlanta silver medalist Yeo Hong-chul.
You pulled off the Yonekura, named after a Japanese rival, in your first vault and Yeo Hong-chul's move, Yeo 2 in your second at this year's Olympics.
Could you explain to us what these techniques are for the average person like myself?


The Yonekura is basically landing on your feet after three and a half turns of the Tsukahara vault. The Yeo 2 is Professor Yeo Hong-chul's invention and involves two and a half turns.

I remember you didn't score as high as expected in your first attempt. You chose the Yonekura for your first attempt and Yeo 2 for your second. What was the thought process behind those choices?

Vaulters have two attempts and there's an interval of one or two minutes between them. After the first vault, we tend to lose our concentration and start running out of breath so it's good to start off with the more difficult move, which is what I did.

They say gymnasts know whether they'll successfully pull off their move the moment they place their hands on the vault. Is that true?

Yes, yes it is.

Did you feel it at this Olympics?

I did. The moment I put my hands on the vault for my first attempt in the final, I knew I would mess up. But I was lucky and landed standing.

And, that's why you walked off after the first trial with a big grin.

It was more like a sigh of relief.

What about your second attempt?

I knew the instant after touching the vault that I would pull it off well.

"Yes, that's a gold," was it?

No, no. I was simply thrilled that I finished without making a mistake.

It was a tight contest with Russia's Denis Abliazin until the results of the second attempt came out and you went on to win under the tie-breaker rules.

I went into the Olympics with a bronze as my goal, but after finishing my attempts in first place with just two competitors remaining, I started craving the gold medal knowing it was mine if I could just get past the two remaining athletes. I know it's naughty of me, but I just wanted to win gold.

There's nothing wrong with that. Of course, all athletes aim for a top finish.

That's right.

Due to a yearlong delay this time, you had an extra year to prepare for the Olympics this time around. How confident were you of winning a medal?

If the Games hadn't been postponed due to the pandemic, I would've been 120% sure I'd win a medal in 2020. But the one year delay took a toll so, my self-esteem was pretty low heading into the Games as I struggled with training in the final year.

There are other international competitions you participated in but the Olympics is special. It's an athlete's dream to take part. This Olympics though took place under extraordinary circumstances brought on by COVID-19. How was it as an athlete to compete under such circumstances?

It was just a new experience for me. The Olympics itself is one of the world's grandest festivals. Despite that, however, there were no spectators present this time due to the virus. I think I simply went through something that I'll probably never experience ever again as an athlete.

Wearing masks was uncomfortable and the Olympics itself was actually kind of boring, considering we weren't allowed to go out or travel at all like we would've had it not been for COVID-19.

So basically, you performed your vaults and flew back home.

Unlike the other events in artistic gymnastics, in the vault, a gymnast's performance ends in four seconds. You are one of a few who compete only in the vault. Why is that? What is it about the vault that attracts you?

Compared to the other events, I've always excelled in the vault and that's why I focus on it. What's fun about vaulting is that all the intensity involved is concentrated in a mere four seconds.

You performed the Yeo 2, named after Yeo Hong-chul, at this Olympics. Do you have any plans to develop a new move bearing your own name?

Believe me, I want to but there are only three years left until Paris 2024 and I don't think adding half a turn to the Yonekura is possible. I'll definitely give it a try though.

So, your own signature move at the Paris Olympics?

I'll try as hard as I can.

How will you name it?

Just Shin Jea-hwan.

Hopefully, that will lead to a "Shin10" one day.

Hopefully.

I'm aware you won quite a bit of prize money. Any plans on how you would like to use it?

COVID-19 caused a bit of financial trouble for my family so, I'd first like to clear our debt. After that, I plan to save up for the time being.

What are your goals in the long term?

I need to wrap up 2021 on a high note for a great kick off to 2022 so, my goal for now is to perform well at the World Championships in October.
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Which means you'll be back to your pro team to train, Jecheon City Hall. But, it doesn't have a men's team. Am I correct?

You're right. Even though there's only a women's team, the Jecheon team accepted me as one of their own. I'm their only male gymnast though and it's a bit uncomfortable that there isn't any men's gymnastics equipment. That's why it'd be great if the city can establish a men's team and build a new, private gym for the gymnasts.

And, you have great affection for the city of Jechon, I see.

I do and I want to let everyone know that Jecheon is holding its 17th International Music and Film Festival starting this Thursday for a week.

Jea-hwan made a special request to our team that he wanted to let our global viewers know about this international festival.

That's right.

Jea-hwan, the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and Paris 2024 wait ahead. But beyond them, what long term goals do you have in life?

After retiring from the field, I'd like to pursue my studies in Education. I would like to aim for a master's and doctor's degree in this area.

I wish you all the best of luck at the upcoming world championships and Paris Olympics as well. Thank you so much Jea-hwan for joining us tonight. Thank you.

Thanks.
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