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.
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
Hanyang University denied the decision to drop gymnastics
was based on such factors.
"It is a total misunderstanding," a university official
"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
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)