16 Nov 2016

In an exclusive interview with the ITTF, 2004 Olympic Champion Ryu Seungmin talks about the responsibility and his goals as the newly elected member of the IOC Athletes' Commission, his future plans, decline of the penhold style of play and much more.

by Neha Aggarwal

“The match was intense, it was three-two and 10-9 in the sixth game in my favour. As Wang Hao struggled to move to the forehand to return my counter topspin, I watched the ball land outside of the table in amazement. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I became the 2004 Olympic Champion in Athens and it was magical. It was a “wow” moment that is still so fresh in my heart.” As Ryu Seungmin walked in the ITTF headquarters in Lausanne, he recalled this incredible feat he achieved 12 years back.

His most recent accomplishment- he is the first table tennis player and the second Korean to be elected as the member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission. Ryu, who speaks perfect English, was in Lausanne to meet other members of the athletes’ commission, headed by USA’s Angela Ruggeiro. The committee met to discuss the plans for the next four years.

The responsibility

“I observed the life of Korea’s Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Moon Dae-sung who was the member of IOC Athletes’ Commission prior to me. I felt that it is a good way to retire from professional sport. I spent 25 years as an athlete and I have been a coach since 2014. When players ask me about technical aspects of table tennis, I can answer everything. But I was unable to answer questions like “what to do after my retirement and life after that.” So I wanted to take up the challenge to be able to assist the athletes in all possible spheres of athletic career and beyond.” said a determined Ryu.

He further continued in an enthusiastic tone,”I feel so happy, it was a dream come true to be able to make it to the athletes’ commission. It’s a big responsibility as I am representing all the athletes and the sport of table tennis. I feel the dual responsibility and I will do my absolute best to serve both.”

The agenda

Ryu pointed out that many athletes all over the world are unaware of the commission and its mission. He said, “Most of the athletes do not know the aims and objectives of the commission. My main agenda is to bridge the gap between the IOC and the athletes. The IOC has an athlete career program and learning gateway for the athletes. I want to inform and introduce all these programs to the athletes. Thus the main agenda at the moment is communication.”

Korea is preparing for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to be held in PyeongChang and Ryu has some major responsibilities. Elaborated on his roles Ryu said,

“I am the executive board member of the Korean Olympic Committee, chairperson of Korean Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, member of PyeongChang Organizing Committee for 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and hold position in the Korean Table Tennis Association. Thus I have a lot of responsibilities. Currently, I am a coach but maybe I wont be able to coach next year as I get so busy with meetings and strategy planning”

Having all these responsibilities on one’s shoulders can be burdensome but Ryu Seungmin is determined. He said, “When I was an athlete, we just focused on our table tennis goals and objectives. I had a successful career as an athlete but now I need to learn how to succeed in my second life. The positions at the IOC and Korean Olympic Committee requires me to do well and be responsible.”

He added, “The ITTF has 222 member countries however, in the Olympic Games table tennis is not the most popular sport. I want to be able to help make table tennis one of the most important sports at the Olympic Games.”

Indeed, the determination is evident in his voice. This was his first visit to Lausanne and he already had series of meetings planned. He also revealed that if given a chance, he would like to resume higher studies in the US. He expressed his hidden desires, “I wanted to study in the US after retirement because I wanted to make a successful transition from an athlete to a sports administrator. But in 2014, I got appointed as the coach. In the near future, if given a chance, I would love to go to the US to study sports management and administration. This is very much on my mind. I am expert in the table tennis but apart from that, I am still a beginner. I have a long way to go.”

Ryu holds a degree in bachelor of Sports Marketing and Master’s in Social Physical Education at Kyonggi University in Republic of Korea.

Athletes’ Commission members at Lausanne. Photo By: Athletes’ Hub/Twitter

The heartache

Ryu Seungmin was the most successful players using the penhold grip in the sport of table tennis. This style of play is attractive, however, has slowly faded out of the international scene as more and more players prefer to use the shakehand grip. Undoubtedly, Ryu feels the pain. He said,

“I feel very sad that the penholders are almost gone. The game has become fast and we need faster movements around the table than shakehand grip players. If I have an opportunity, I will promote the penhold style of play. It is very attractive. The fans love it.”

But with the changes in the game over these years, it is hard to promote this style. “We need to study on how we can develop a new skill to survive amongst the shakehand grip players”, said Ryu. With more research and technology coming into the game, it is definitely possible if executed.

The other life

Ryu Seungmin’s life after retirement has been a roller coaster ride. Apart from coaching and the multiple responsibilities on his shoulders, he still finds time for a new sport that he has recently picked up. “My new hobby is golf. I understand this sport very well. Women’s golf is strong in South Korea and I enjoy both watching and playing golf.”

He also admires soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo as he is an all rounded personality. “He has contributed a lot over the world. He is not only a good sportsperson but also a great promoter of the game.” said Ryu. Idolized by many young people, Ronaldo is Ryu’s inspiration!

Apart from attending the meeting of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Ryu Seungmin also attended meetings with the IOC’s Marketing Commission, Athletes’ Entourage Commission, visited the Olympic Games museum and the ITTF headquarters. He is now headed to Doha, Qatar to attend the ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committee) General Assembly.

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