January 30, 1997 (NEW SHUTTLENWS) - Because of the retirement of three of their Atlanta Olympic medal winners, the Korean badminton team has had to enter a quick rebuilding phase to get ready for the world championships in late May.

The Koreans were hit by the unexpected retirements late last year of Bang Soo Hyun, the women's singles gold medalist, and Gil Young Ah, the mixed doubles gold medalist and also the women's doubles silver medalist. Both players retired from competitive badminton in their early 20's with several more years of winning international badminton play ahead of them.

Also departing the competitive scene after making a resounding comeback was Park Joo Bong, the 1992 Olympic men's doubles gold medal winner and the 1996 Olympic mixed doubles silver medalist. Park has re-retired and is now coaching in the United Kingdom.

The Koreans reformed their national team and began regular training only in November. Expected to take Bang's place in the women's singles lineup is Ra Kyung Min, who took a leave from singles training in 1995 and 1996 to partner Park Joo Bong in mixed doubles. Singles aces Kim Ji Hyun and Lee Joo Hyun are also still with the national team.

The men's singles lineup has the same cadre of top players - Park Sung Woo, the world championships silver medalist who is returning from an injury layoff, Kim Hak Kyun, and Lee Kwang Jin. Joining them is the youngster Hwang Sun Ho who has risen from nowhere to number 22 in the world rankings.

Men's doubles will still be led by Ha Tae Kwon and Kang Kyung Jin, winners of last week's Korean Open. Kim Dong Moon, the Olympic mixed doubles champion, is recovering from a hamstring injury, but is expected to play a significant role in men's doubles and mixed doubles when he returns to action.

Lee Dong Soo, Yoo Yung Sung and Hwang Sun Ho are the other men's doubles specialists. The men's doubles partnerships may shift around until the Korean coaching staff finds the best combinations.

In women's doubles, the fiercely competitve world champion Jang Hye Ock, Gil's partner, is back after a hiatus. Who she will be partnered with is up in the air, although the likely candidate is former reserve Park Soo Yun, who gained much international playing experience when the Koreans sent her around the international tournament circuit after the Olympics. Kim Mee Hyang and Kim Shin Young, the number two pair behind Gil and Jang in the past, will probably move to the number one slot until Jang and Park get used to playing together. In the reserve slot is Yim Kyung Jin. Also available for an emergency callup is former Olympic and world champion Chung So Young, although she is not in training with the national team.

In mixed doubles, Kim Dong Moon will need to find a partner to replace co-Olympic gold medalist Gil Young Ah. Candidates are Jang Hye Ock, Park Soo Yun, Kim Mee Hyang, Kim Shin Young, and Yim Kyung Jin. Ra Kyung Min, who won an Olympic silver medal with Park Joo Bong, is an unlikely partner, because the Koreans need to replace the void left by Bang Soo Hyun's retirement and want her to concentrate on women's singles.

Other mixed doubles combinations are Lee Dong Soo and Park Soo Yun, who have climbed to a world ranking of number 6, Kang Kyung Jin and Kim Mee Hyang, and Ha Tae Kwon and Kim Shin Young.

Because they lost three top players who were significant factors at last year's Korean Open when they had a near-sweep of the titles and because they only started up serious training in late November, the Korean badminton team was unperturbed when they only won one championship on their own home grounds last week. Their immediate goal is to have a good showing at the world mixed team (Sudirman Cup) and world individual championships in late May in Scotland and they are training to peak for those two consecutive events.


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