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Goodwill Envoys of the Sports Kind
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China is an established sports powerhouse today, and the South Koreans can take some credit for that.

South Korean coaches won the hearts of sports fans for the immediate, and at times miraculous, improvements they brought to the Chinese soccer and field hockey teams.

In fact, field hockey coaching guru Kim Chang-back is seen as one of the most successful foreign coaches in China.

The change in the national women's team was instant after his appointment in 1999. He lifted the Chinese players from obscurity to world fame. The team came out of nowhere to grab the fifth place at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Two years later, it won the gold at the Busan Asian Games. The losing finalist was Kim's home team that went down 2-1. The Chinese girls won the Champions Trophy the same year, and finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

China's sports officials are simply thrilled by Kim's achievements. "Kim has done an excellent job and accomplished almost everything he had promised," former sports chief Hu Jianguo said.

Before coming to China, Kim had led the South Korean women's team to a string of successes in the early 1990s. The only big one missing was the Olympic gold. It still is, and Kim hopes the Chinese girls will fulfill that dream at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. That would be a perfect end to a perfect coaching career.

"This is my best chance because the Chinese team will play on home ground," Kim said.

Another South Korean field hockey coach Kim Sang-ryul is hoping to do the same with the men's team. He has already won nationwide acclaim for the team's performance in international competitions.

The men's team went into December's Doha Asian Games as underdogs, but upset big names such as India and Pakistan to reach their first ever final. They lost 1-3 to favourites South Korea in the final, but the message was clear: this team will be waiting for the Beijing Olympics.

Team captain said: "In the past two years he has led us to achieve results we thought were impossible."

The two Kims' tough training regime sparked criticism, but their achievements silenced critics and won the respect of the players.

"South Korean players and coaches used to be my students and also my friends. But during a match, they are my opponents," Sang-ruyl said. "My duty is to coach. I try to beat every team."

South Korean coaches have also helped the Chinese archery and handball teams. The South Koreans are excellent in the two sports.

Yang Chang-hoon, a former member of the South Korean men's archery team, was invited in 2001 to train the Chinese team.

He took China to a historic victory in the re-curve women's team event at the 41st World Outdoor Target Archery Championships in Beijing.

The men's team, too, achieved its best ever result by grabbing the bronze.

Chung Hyung-kyun, South Korea's champion handball coach carried the Chinese women's team to the quarterfinals at the Athens Olympiad.

The South Koreans have shown their amazing coaching talents in soccer, too.

Veteran coach Lee Jang-soo joined the Chinese Soccer League a decade ago, and in 2000 was named the best coach of the year by leading Chongqing Lifan to China's FA Cup win.

Now he coaches Beijing Guo'an, with the team ranking fifth in the 15-team league.

(China Daily April 11, 2007)

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