by Kabir Nagpal
There was a true feeling of a fairytale unfolding before the home crowd, when Jang Woojin decided to weave his magic over us all.
Battling against all the odds, he stole the show, causing a stir on the global stage with an historic campaign in Daejeon. Today, as we celebrate his remarkable journey, it is important to start at the beginning.
Unseeded, but full of confidence
It was special outing on his home turf for Jang, notably because he started in the qualification stage, negotiating tricky matches with ease and confidence; this continued to the first match in the main draw campaign, where he recorded a convincing victory over Germany’s Patrick Franziska.
However, the biggest signal of his upcoming glory was when he caused the upset of the tournament, seeing off the no.3 seeded Xu Xin from China.
Jang recorded a 4-1 (11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 13-11, 11-7) win, preventing what would have been a definite comeback by Xu after he secured the third game – but the Korean had other ideas. Turning the tide in a close fourth game, Jang made sure he eliminated his biggest threat in the tournament.
“It was my first time I had so much support from the enthusiastic spectators, I became nervous; at the crucial times the Korean spectators supported and encouraged me a lot. They gave me energy; on the other hand it might have been a burden for my opponent. Xu Xin is the top ranking player. Even when I led in the match, I didn’t feel as though I was leading. Ahead three-one I tried not to focus on the result. I made my mind up just to focus on every single point; that is why I won this match.” Jang Woojin
After this major scalp, Jang was bundling with confidence and vigour which saw him make his own comeback in the next round against fellow Korean Jeong Sangeun, to win a seven-game thriller. Finally, after toppling Japan’s Jun Mizutani one round later, he brought himself within touching distance of the gold medal.
Double the glory
With the singles’ campaign was off to a flyer and a half, his tournament in the doubles was no less full of drama and action.
After Korea Republic and DPR Korea took momentous action towards a showcase of unity, the Unified Korea pairing of Jang Woojin and Cha Hyo Sim immortalised the decision in the best possible fashion. Together as one, they beat the young Chinese pair of Wang Chuqin and Sun Yingsha 3-1 (5-11, 11-3, 11-4, 11-8) to claim the gold.
“I felt very nervous because this was a huge game and had a lot of attention in the news. I felt like we need to win this game and I am very happy we have done so. I never had much opportunities where I had goosebumps while playing table tennis but this was one of them, I would like to thank the fans for coming out to cheer for us. Thank you for the victory.” Jang Woojin
And that win – which was more than just a gold medal given the united front of the two countries involved – seemed to have pushed Jang into believing that pretty much anything was possible from here on out.
The then 22-year-old used that belief to sweep home his second gold medal shortly afterwards, in men’s doubles final in front of an ecstatic 6,000-capacity crowd. Jang partnered Lim Jonghoon, both seeded sixth, to victory against Hong Kong China’s top seeds, Ho Kwan Kit and Wong Chun Ting. In a very tight match, the lack of hesitation from the Korea Republic pairing proved to be vital to claim the 3-1 (11-8, 19-17, 9-11, 11-9) win.
Triple the celebrations
Later that very day, the men’s singles final was at hand – and the historians were ready with their quills in anticipation.
Jang Woojin, the home qualifier, was up against another qualifier in Liang Jingkun in what turned out to be a thrilling match of four games.
Displaying his peaking confidence, as well as the feel of a champion now running through his body, Jang cut a figure at the table who knew what he wanted – and how he was going to succeed. The crowd in full voice, backing their man, there was no reason for Jang to feel out of place.
Jang made a good start, establishing a 5-1 lead in the first game, before Liang reduced the deficit to one point at 9-8 but could not gain parity. The leads started coming and they were there to stay.
By third game, Jang could smell the win, securing the first three points when Liang called a “time out” to calm things down. Despite levelling the game at 6-all, it did little to turn the tide, as the next three points went in favour of Jang. Serving short to the forehand of Liang, Jang seized the third game and the crowd went wild.
Jang capped off his magnificent journey in fine style, securing the final game 11-3 and winning his third gold medal in a little over two days, after defeating Liang Jingkun without losing a game (11-8, 11-9, 11-7, 11-3).
On this day in 2018, Jang Woojin – after taking all three events into consideration – played 16 matches, winning every single one. This not only made him the fifth host nation player to win an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title on home soil, but also the three titles in Daejeon, made Jang the first-ever ITTF World Tour triple crown winner.
What a day to remember.