THIS YEAR’S Yon-Ko Games is rather peculiar because its irregular schedule places the event on the first week of September, or more surprisingly, the first week of school. The hype is nonetheless the same, but the shortened time frame places greater pressure on the athletes to perform well. Out of the five sports, ice hockey is one of the more uncommon sports in Korea, yet also a main highlight of the Yon-Ko games. The Yonsei Annals interviewed this year’s team captain, Ahn Jae-in (Sr., Dept. of Physical Education), and three dedicated players—Lee Tae-kyung (Jr., Dept. of Sport Industry Studies), Jung Hyun-jin (Fresh., Dept. of Physical Education), and Kim Jae-young (Fresh., Dept. of Physical Education)—who elaborated on their motivations to start ice hockey, the significance of the Yon-Ko Games, and their expectations for this year’s game.
A day in a life of an ice hockey player
Annals: When did you first begin training and why did you choose to become an ice hockey player?
Ahn: I first began playing ice hockey when I was nine years old and my mother took me to an ice rink. Originally, I thought the sport was too difficult and tiring, but as I continued playing, I quickly grew passionate about it. Unlike sports you play on land, which is limited by your physical abilities like how fast you can run, ice hockey is a uniquely accelerating and refreshing game. As dangerous as the game is, you get a thrill on the ice that you are not able to get on land.
Lee: I began training when I was seven and, as far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to play ice hockey. I naturally followed the footsteps of my older brother, who was also a member of Yonsei University’s ice hockey team, but I ultimately chose this sport because I thought it was very masculine. In comparison to basketball or soccer, ice hockey is a more aggressive sport, which helps athletes relieve stress.
Kim: I started when I was eight years old. My father inspired me to play ice hockey because he was not only a professional ice hockey player but also an alumnus of Korea University’s ice hockey team. My goal has always been to play on the Yonsei team because I did not want to be overshadowed by father’s legacy. I wanted to prove to myself that I am also a skilled ice hockey player.
Annals: Are there any aspects you dislike about being an athlete at Yonsei University?
Ahn: Even though I want to spend time leisurely with my friends, go on trips, and join student clubs like any other university student, it is hard for me to find the time to experience these fun aspects of university life. Athletes also don’t have a set summer vacation as we have to train off-season regularly.
Lee: I dislike the limitations I have as a student athlete. Since we have to train frequently, attending classes can become difficult. I once applied for a double major, but my request was turned down because the department professors downright believed I was incapable of fulfilling the credit requirement. I became aware of the bittersweet reality that there were many limitations as an athlete to pursue other academic fields or career paths.
Annals: What is the greatest difficulty about playing ice hockey?
Ahn: Particularly in Korea, the most difficult part about playing ice hockey is the lack of resources. Since ice hockey is not a common sport, acquiring sports equipment is more difficult and the limited number of ice rinks in Seoul makes it hard to train. We have to wait for the ice rinks to close for the public in order to rent the entire location for our practices; so our schedules end up being very late at night.
Annals:What are your plans after graduating from Yonsei University?
Ahn: Many of our department alumni move on to attend graduate school, continue their career as athletes, or enter the field of physical training and education. As the captain of this year’s team, I hope to bring pride to Yonsei University and follow in the footsteps of our former team members by pursuing a professional ice hockey career.
Lee: I haven’t thought too deeply about my life post-graduation, but I plan on entering the army to complete my mandatory service first. If you are an athlete and take a leave of absence to serve in the army, you cannot return as an athlete. To avoid such conflicts, many of us tend to postpone our mandatory service until we graduate. Afterwards, I hope to become an ice hockey coach who can foster young athletes that exceed my abilities and acquire skills that I myself could not completely master.
Kim: Unlike my father and fellow teammates, I aim to become a recovery trainer. As an athlete, injuries are devastating, and I have dislocated both of my shoulders multiple times throughout my ice hockey journey. My personal experience inspired me to help athletes like myself recover from injuries and continue playing the sports we love to play.
This significance of the Yon-Ko Games
Annals: What is the team atmosphere like this year?
Ahn: Among the four years I have attended Yonsei University, I think this year’s team has the best team spirit. Last year, we had many internal conflicts, not only between the under and upperclassmen, but also between the head coach and the players. This year, we worked under a new head coach, and I tried my best to create no rift between the under and upperclassmen. Now, our team retains a more comfortable and intimate atmosphere. As the captain, I always ask our teammates to freely voice their opinions and I am proud to say that all the players on our team now support one another in and out of the rink.
Lee: Our team always knows how to have a good time. Because we have to prepare for our upcoming season, we are not allowed to drink alcohol, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun. Instead of constantly being in a serious training atmosphere whenever the team meets up, we turn up the music and have fun like we’re drunk.
Annals: What do you look forward to the most about this year’s Yon-Ko Games?
Ahn: The Yon-Ko Games is basically the biggest tournament for ice hockey players our age. Most ordinary students who watch the Yon-Ko Games envy the players in the rink because of the attention they receive, and that is also one of the reasons why many athletes, including myself, train to become ice hockey players. We all look forward to the spotlight, hearing the deafening cheers, and thanking the audience who recognizes our dedication and hard work. However, for athletes, the Yon-Ko Games is not simply about winning or losing. Because we are sponsored and scouted solely for the purpose of playing ice hockey, our performance defines who we are.
Lee: I look forward to seeing how we will beat Korea University this year. I predict we will have an overwhelming win.
Jung: As a freshman, I have motivated myself to persist through each and every hardship in order to play in a tournament as large as that of the Yon-Ko Games. So, being a part of the game symbolizes me achieving my dream.
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Lastly, the Annals asked the head coach, Lee Jong-su, what he would like to say to the student body, who will be cheering for the players he has relentlessly trained to represent the heart and pride of Yonsei University. He stated, “Many students hold negative opinions about ice hockey players because they supposedly come from wealthy families and have the resources to play such a unique sport. However, this is a myth. All of our athletes have been diligently training since a young age and have acquired this level through time and effort, much like any other athlete. We hope that Yonseians will cheer for each and every one of our ice hockey players, and that, through the Yon-Ko games, students will take more interest in our team. Please support us during our games throughout the season!”