Gymnastics-'God of Vault' flips out after school drops his sport

Reuters

By Narae Kim

SEOUL, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Olympic champion Yang Hak-seon,

who vaulted South Korea gymnastics into the limelight by winning

gold at the 2012 London Games, has flipped out at plans by

Hanyang University to disband its gymnastics team, fearing it

could harm the sport's growth.

The university announced on Friday that it would drop

gymnastics, judo and track and field from its sports teams in

2015 due to budget shortfalls and bribery scandals surrounding

the selection of new students.

They will run only soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball

and ice hockey teams leaving the 21-year-old Yang and officials

of the sport aghast at the rejection.

"I have withstood physical pains from gymnastics but this

decision breaks my heart so much," read a placard held by Yang

in front of the school's main office on Monday.

"How would a senior in high school feel if he studied so

hard only to find there is nowhere he can apply to? This is so

grave an issue that I could not take a back seat," Yang told

Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.

Yang is leading a group of past and present gymnasts who

have joined forces with the Korean Gymnastic Association (KGA)

in a bid to stall the university's decision.

They have launched a nationwide petition to garner more

attention from media and the public and will hold another rally

at the school on Friday.

They will also have a private meeting with the school's

president Lim Duck-ho in a bid to stop the submission of the

planned changes to the government.

"The aftermath of such a decision is not limited to just one

single university. It can shake the entire foundation of South

Korea's gymnastics and adversely affect our effort to spot and

attract talented gymnasts like Yang," said Kim Dong-min, vice

president of KGA.

"Gymnastics has been like a good son earning medals at

international competitions but largely under-appreciated."

South Korea have won nine Olympic medals at gymnastics, two

at baseball, one in soccer, volleyball and basketball and none

at ice hockey in the Winter Games.

OUTRAGEOUS

Yang has been the catalyst for the sport's increased profile

at home after he became the first Korean gymnast to win Olympic

gold when he took the vault title in London which earned him the

nickname 'God of Vault.'

He followed up that success by defending his world

championship title in Belgium in August, however, he and the

sport continue to trail soccer and baseball in the popularity

stakes.

Hanyang University denied the decision to drop gymnastics

was based on such factors.

"It is a total misunderstanding," a university official

said.

"We are shutting down gymnastics not because it gets less

media attention and thus not very helpful in promoting the

school's name but because it is an individual sport.

"It makes the whole restructuring process a lot easier (than

team sports)."

A former pupil, who graduated from the school in the late

1990s and is currently teaching the sport at several

universities, said the decision was wrong.

"It is just outrageous the university decided to discard

gymnastics just because it is not as popular as soccer or

basketball... and without consent from the students and

parents," he said on condition of anonymity.

"The school keeps saying it has been pouring 5 billion won

($4.75 million) per year on the sports teams and that it is too

big of a burden in the midst of pressure to cut tuition fees and

reduce the class size.

"But I was shocked a few days ago to see the current

students still using the exactly same equipment I used almost

two decades ago. Nothing has changed."

($1 = 1052.2000 Korean won)

(Reporting by Narae Kim; Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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