Women hitting hard aim for sepak takraw gold

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Korean women’s sepak takraw team trains at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, northern Chungcheong. [KIM SUNG-TAE]

Sepak takraw, like curling eight months ago, is a sport few Koreans have heard of. The popular Southeast Asian game – much like volleyball but played with the feet and a small rattan ball – never really found much popularity outside of Malaysia, Thailand and the United States. surroundings. That could be about to change, as the Korea women’s team are confident they can win sepak takraw gold at the 2018 Asian Games.

Sepak takraw, sometimes known as kick volleyball, takes its name from a combination of Malay and Thai. Sepak is the Malay word for kick, while takraw is a Thai word meaning a woven ball.

Much like volleyball, the ultimate goal of the game is to get the ball to touch the ground on your opponent’s side of the net. Teams can touch the ball up to three times before it has to cross the net, but the second the 6-ounce ball hits the ground, the point is lost.

Players are only allowed to touch the ball with their feet, knees, chest and head. A well-placed sepak takraw kick can exceed 60 miles per hour.

The sport was first introduced to Korea in 1987. Korea even won a gold medal at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, winning the men’s sepak takraw event. The circle version of the game is played without a net and involves players attempting to pass to their teammates while making sure the ball passes through the center of the circle. This puzzling variation is no longer played at the Games.

At the Jakarta Palembang 2018 Asian Games, there are a total of six gold medals – four men’s events and two women’s events – up for grabs in sepak takraw. Korea will participate in all events.

The 12 players of the Korean women’s team are currently training at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, north Chungcheong. They hope to win the country’s first-ever gold in the women’s team event.

“It has a different meaning this time around,” said Kim Dong-hee, who is competing in the Games for the third time. “We are working very hard to win a gold medal.”

At the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, the women’s team won silver in the women’s regular category, a three-on-three event.

Continuing their success, the women’s team won the country’s first ever gold medal in regularity at the 2017 King’s Cup World Championship in Sepaktakraw in December, beating Myanmar, 2014 Asian Games gold medalist. , finally.

“We won another silver medal at an international event in Thailand this year after a short period of training together,” said Kim Hee-jin, another member of the team. “Unlike other Asian teams, the Korean women’s team has its own family environment and our strong teamwork comes from this comfortable atmosphere. It is our strength.

In the women’s sepak takraw events, the net is 4.7 feet off the ground. As players have to kick the ball over the net, height and long legs are important. But the Korean team believe that variety is their greatest strength.

“In our squad we have a mix of tall and short players,” said team member Lee Min-ju. “[When we compete at international tournaments,] we hear people say “it looks like gymnasts and basketball players are playing together”. Since we have a variety of players in our squad, we are like the avengers of sepak takraw.

The majority of the players of the Korean women’s team started playing the sport in middle or high school. Lee Min-ju started playing sepak takraw in seventh grade when his school introduced the sport. At the time, Lee was playing for his school’s track team. Kim Dong-hee, who is not from an athletic background, started the sport in grade 10 while attending high school with a sepak takraw team.

Although it is not a familiar sport in Korea, the national team still had to work very hard to represent the country.

“The ball is really hard. Since we do thousands of landings a day, we have bruises on our legs and back, ”said Kim I-only, a member of the team.

Despite the recent international success, the sport is still almost unknown among Koreans. Currently, there are only eight high schools with female sepak takraw teams and seven amateur teams in Korea. Through this year’s Asian Games, the women’s team is hoping to popularize the sport in Korea, just as the success of Kim’s curling team at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics spurred the popularity of the frigid sport here.

But the road to gold will not be easy. Korea will have to beat Thailand, world giants sepak takraw. Thailand have won 10 of 15 gold medals in women’s sepak takraw at previous Asian Games.

“We have never won against Thailand in an international tournament [in a team event]”said Lee Min-ju.” This time we really want to win.

BY KIM JI-HAN [[email protected]]

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