“We engage in competition under the spirit of Su-Sa-Bul-Pae (수사불패, 雖死不敗),” they said, referring to the four-character slogan that translates as, “I may die, but I can’t lose.”

The future of Korean triathlons is bright due to two 20-something athletes, Heo Min-ho and Kim Ji-hwan, who both turn 26 this year, are currently part of the Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps. The duo, forming a team with two other female athletes, won a silver medal in the triathlon mixed relay competition at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. It was the first time for Korea to win a silver medal in the triathlon at an international event, and it became a stepping stone to raise the nation’s triathlon ability to an international level.

In about minus 10 degrees Celsius, Korea Triathlon National Team members Heo Min-ho (left) and Kim Ji-Hwan train at the Jincheon National Training Center in Chungcheongbuk-do Province.

In about minus 10 degrees Celsius, Korea Triathlon National Team members Heo Min-ho (left) and Kim Ji-Hwan train at the Jincheon National Training Center in Chungcheongbuk-do Province.

Official triathlon competitions began to be held annually when the International Triathlon Union was created in 1989. The triathlon made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Olympics only a decade after its international governing body was established. Korea.net visited the Jincheon National Training Center to interview the two stars of Korean triathlons on Jan. 27. Although temperatures were below zero degrees Celsius, the two athletes, who had just finished the day’s outdoor training, had smiles on their faces.

Kim Ji-hwan (left) and Heo Min-ho smile during an interview.

Kim Ji-hwan (left) and Heo Min-ho smile during an interview.

They both possess very unique backgrounds. In 1995, Heo Min-ho began training for the triathlon at the age of 5, as he had a kindergarten teacher who was a triathlon champion at the time. Kim Ji-hwan, on the other hand, began swimming when he was 5-years-old and was a children’s track and field athlete at elementary school. He began cycling when he entered middle school.

In order to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21 this year, the triathletes have until this May to achieve enough points in official international triathlon competitions and they must place among the world’s top 55 triathletes. Heo Min-ho said, “We have until May to get enough points in order to participate at the Olympics this summer. Therefore, we’re doing our best during this winter training period to pour everything we got into international competitions that will be held in March.”

Shin Jin-seop, head coach of the Korea Triathlon National Team, said, “The Jincheon National Training Center is the perfect place for our triathletes to train due to the suitable environment, as it’s surrounded by many lakes and mountains. Also, in the winter, swimming and cycling can be conducted indoors so there are no obstacles to our schedule.”

Kim Ji-hwan (left) and Heo Min-ho show their resolve to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Kim Ji-hwan (left) and Heo Min-ho show their resolve to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

In order to not fall behind trends in international sports, Korea has belatedly entered the world of triathlons. The Korea Triathlon Federation was established in 1987, and the sport was displayed as a demonstration sport at the National Sports Festival in 2000. By fostering a younger generation of athletes over nearly a decade, Korea was successful in bearing the fruit of its efforts at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games where Jang Yun-jung achieved a bronze medal in the women’s individual competition. This was soon followed by Heo Min-ho, the first Korean athlete to participate in the triathlon at the Olympic Games, in 2012 in London. Heo then formed a team with Kim Ji-Hwan, Kim Gyu-ri and Jeong Hye-rim and they were successful in winning a silver medal in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games triathlon mixed relay.

(From left) Kim Ji-Hwan, Kim Gyu-ri, Jyeong Hye-rim and Heo Min-ho cheer as they win the silver medal in the triathlon mixed relay competition at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

(From left) Kim Ji-Hwan, Kim Gyu-ri, Jyeong Hye-rim and Heo Min-ho cheer as they win the silver medal in the triathlon mixed relay competition at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

In no time at all, Korea succeeded in accomplishing many results. However, the international barrier stands still taller. Although Heo Min-ho was the first Korean athlete to compete in the triathlon at the Olympic Games, he crossed the finish line in 54th place, barely becoming one of the only 55 athletes who qualified for the competition. This shows the limits of the Korean athlete’s physical conditioning compared to that of other athletes.

On this matter, the main coach, Shin Jin-seop, said, “As Heo Min-ho ranked as one of the lowest at the 2012 London Olympics, we can’t deny the fact that there’s still a wide gap between Korea and the international stage. However, the triathlon here is steadily developing, as young athletes participate in the race at the both the National Youth and National Sport festivals. We achieved a silver medal at the 2014 Incehon Asian Games in the triathlon mixed relay. Therefore, our goal for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics is not to achieve a medal, but rather to get inside the top 25.”

Korea Triathlon National Team members Heo Min-ho (left) and Kim Ji-hwan (right) pose for a photo with their head coach, Shin Jin-seop, in front of the Jincheon National Training Center in Chungcheongbuk-do Province.

Korea Triathlon National Team members Heo Min-ho (left) and Kim Ji-hwan (right) pose for a photo with their head coach, Shin Jin-seop, in front of the Jincheon National Training Center in Chungcheongbuk-do Province.

This year, both Heo and Kim turn 26-years-old. At that age, people experience many things and meet many friends in their life. Therefore, the triathlon holds significant meaning for both of them, who have trained assiduously from an early age.

Heo Min-ho said, “I began training for the triathlon at the age of 5. Therefore, not only my dreams and goals, but my whole life, is the triathlon itself. Therefore, I want to accomplish all my goals through the triathlon.”

Kim Ji-hwan said, “I haven’t thought about anything else beside the triathlon since it’s my job, my work and my family. Also, I’ve always dreamed of attending the Olympic Games and of becoming number one there. As my dream gets nearer, I’ll do my best to make it come true.”

By Tae Sol
Korea.net Staff Writer
Photos: Jeon Han, Korea Triathlon Federation
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