Women’s Handball Kang Eun-hye “Three consecutive Asian Games? I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!”

September 16, 2023 0 Comments

“Three consecutive Asian Games? I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!”

Kang Eun-hye (27-SK Sugar Gliders), one of the biggest ‘pivots’ of the Korean women’s handball team, doesn’t hesitate for a second when it comes to her goals for the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games. She is determined to defend her country’s pride as the ‘strongest women’s handball team in Asia’. Korean women’s handball has finished on top of the podium at the Asian Games all but once since Beijing 1990 (third place in Guangzhou 2010) and has won 16 out of 19 Asian Championships. This year’s Asian Games will be the third in a row, following Incheon 2014 and Jakarta-Palembang 2018, and the team will be looking to get back to winning ways.

“All the athletes on the national team are very determined and have a strong ‘we can do it’ attitude. I think we can do it if the public supports us a lot (laughs).”메이저놀이터

There’s a reason for Kang’s confidence. On March 23 in Hiroshima, Japan, South Korea defeated Japan in the final match of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games Asian Qualifier to punch its ticket to Paris. South Korea had won three straight games in the qualifiers, defeating India (53-14), China (33-20), and Kazakhstan (45-24) before the final match against Japan. Only the top-ranked team with an undefeated record qualified for the Paris Olympics.

Korea leads the all-time series against Japan 40-1, with five draws and five losses, but it was an uphill battle. The game was played in Japan, and the home crowd’s one-sided support made it difficult to focus on the game. The 1,500 or so fans in attendance started chanting “Nippon!” to the beat of drums and doing waves more than an hour before kickoff. If it was a Korean cheering squad, it would have been encouraging, but on the other side, it was torture. Kang Eun-hye said, “I had to focus on my game, but I was actually a little nervous. I had to communicate with the coach and my teammates during the game, but I couldn’t, so it was very difficult.”

South Korea was down 0-5 at the start of the game. Shots and passes weren’t falling, and the Japanese defense was stifling, forcing turnovers. In a way, the Japanese crowd’s intentional (?) cheering was successful. Women’s National Handball Team head coach Henrique Signel called a timeout just five minutes into the game, and the Korean team started to look different after regrouping. The pivot players started and ended the first half. Kim Bo-eun (26-Samcheok City Hall) scored the first point, and Kang Eun-hye dramatically pulled one back with 10 seconds left in the half to make it 14-15 at the break. “I was actually scared that I wouldn’t make it,” said Kang Eun-hye, swiping at her chest.

South Korea and Japan battled back and forth in the second half, with the Koreans eventually securing a hard-fought 25-24 victory to qualify for their 11th consecutive Olympic Games, an unprecedented feat in the history of men’s and women’s handball. But it was far from their best performance. In the final of the Asian Championship last December, they were down by six points (10-16) before coming back to win 34-29 in overtime. To put it nicely, the Korea-Japan game can be considered a must-win, but there is no denying that the gap is closing.

“It’s true that we didn’t play well this time,” Kang Eun-hye admitted. Korea is arguably the strongest team in Asia, but Japan has improved a lot. “It’s true that Japanese players used to be shorter and less athletic, but there are many professional women’s handball teams in Japan, and many players are going abroad, so their competitiveness has increased. Japan is growing, while Korea is losing teams, and it’s harder because they only ask for results. There are only eight women’s handball teams.”

Kang said she was surprised when she walked into Incheon International Airport after the final Asian qualifier for the Paris Olympics. She was greeted by more fans than at the Jakarta-Palembang Games four years earlier. “I was surprised,” Kang said, “I’ve never seen so many people come together to congratulate me. I was more welcomed than when I won gold four years ago. I was surprised, but it felt so good.”

I asked her if she didn’t feel sad that the media and the public want her to do well in international competitions, even though she usually doesn’t pay attention to them. Kang Eun-hye didn’t hesitate for a second. “It’s actually encouraging to know that people are interested in me if I do well. I’m not sad at all. It makes me work harder.”

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