Play Korea, The Excellence of Korean Sports
The Korean Wave, which for a time had been in decline due to the lack of new contents, is going through a process of revitalization. The Korean Wave phenomenon has promoted a positive image of Korea among foreigners and boosted Korea's national brand. The Korean Wave also played a major role in replacing a dark and negative image of Korea that stemmed from the from the Korean War and its aftermath with a new and much more positive one.
But it's unfortunate that the Korean sports, an important component of the Korean Wave, has been largely ignored while all the attention has been focused upon Korean entertainers.
However in point of fact, it was revealed in a recent 'Korean Wave Communication Survey' that foreigners are more familiar with the achievements of Korean sports(76.16 out of 100) than Korean foods(70.92), movies/dramas(70.84), literature(69.76) and K-Pop(69.04).
Taekwondo, The First Korean Sports Wave
The origin of the Korean Sports Wave dates back to mid 1950's. In 1956, Lee Jun-goo(American name, Jun Lee), then a foreign student enrolled in Texas State University, taught Americans about the existence of Taekwondo for the first time. In 1962, Lee opened America's first Taekwondo dojo in Washington D.C. In order to compete with better known martial arts such as Kung-fu and Karate, Lee came up with a unique PR strategy of sending letters to influential people in American politics and promising them better school grades and discipline for their children if he were given a chance to teach them Taekwondo. Thanks to many satisfied parents, Lee went on to open another dojo for the parents themselves and has taught more than 300 U.S. congressmen and senators thus far. In 1975, he even organized a Taekwondo competition for such people. Presently, Lee has 70,000 pupils under his tutelage. The former U.S. president Bill Clinton is one of them. In 2000, Lee was named "The Most Successful Immigrant" by the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service.
When it comes to the Korean Sports Wave, the name of Park Chan-ho, the first ever Korean Major Leaguer, cannot go unmentioned. Starting his MLB career with L.A. Dodgers in 1994, he scored 124 wins in 17 seasons until 2011. He's the record holder of the 'most wins' category among MLB's Asian pitchers. After Park's retirement, we've seen spectacular performances from the next generation of Korean MLB players like Ryu Hyun-jin and Choo Shin-soo in the 2013 season.
As for professional golf, Park Se-ri and Choi Kyung-Ju were names that caught the world by surprise. Winning 25 LPGA titles in total, Park was the first Asian as well as the youngest golfer to be inducted into the LPGA's Hall of Fame. In the meantime, Choi won 8 PGA titles, which is equivalent to all the wins by all of the other Asian players combined.
In addition, the world's highest ranking figure skater Kim Yu-na is looking to win her 2nd straight gold medal in the upcoming Winter Olympics. In swimming, Korea has Park Tae-hwan who completely shattered the notion that Asian swimmers cannot compete with their Western counterparts in freestyle swimming due to their disadvantageous physique. Before Park, Japan had been the leading Asian country in swimming with Kosuke Kitajima's Olympic gold medal in breast stroke style. But Park's first gold medal in freestyle has totally upset the old order.
Indeed, Korean athletes have been making their mark on the stage of world sports. Out of 4 billion Asians, Korea is the only country which has produced two Olympic marathon gold medalists.
In the last London Olympics, Korea took 5th place in terms of the gold medal tally. Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, Korea has always been among the top 10 countries. When population and GNP are considered, Korea even out competes the U.S. and China. Bearing these facts in mind, it is not an exaggeration to say that Korea's greatest export is its sports.