The last trophy to winArticle
«Go back

The South Korean star of Hypo, Seong Ok Oh, talks to in the second part of our portrait interview series.

»EHF CL Channel »2008-09 Women's News


Born: 10.10.1972, Deajon
Height/weight: 1.70m/67kg
International caps: over 300
Clubs: Korean Sport University, Juong Gun Deaung, Japan Hiroshima Club, Hypo Niederösterreich
Most influential coaches: Joung Hyoung Gun, Lim Jyoung Scheong
Honours: Olympic Gold (1992), Olympic Silver (1996, 2004), Olympic Bronze (2004), World Champion (1995) and bronze medallist (2003), Asian Games winner (1989 and 1993), 6-times Japanese champion, 4-times Korean champion and Champions League runner-up

The last trophy to win

South Korean handball has produced outstanding results in the last two decades. A key player of the powerful Korean team is currently playing for the Austrian elite club, Hypo Niederösterreich.

Seong Ok Oh has won basically everything: Olympic Games, World Championship, Asia Games... Two seasons ago she decided to try to conquer the only missing trophy of her career, the Champions League.

The experienced and exceptionally skilful playmaker brought along a special mentality so typical of Asian athletes. She talks to us about her career and about the way she sees Europe. What does handball mean for Koreans? Has it always been the number one sport in your country?

Oh: In fact, it was not the first choice of girls at the times when I started to play. Basketball, softball or swimming was more popular, but a teacher of mine spotted that I had a talent for handball.

Oh has great physical attributesIn Korea there are about 10 clubs where you can learn to play on a high level and we have a league of 12 clubs. Though handball was not the favourite sport before, the many successes we brought with the national team promoted the game very well. Today there are a relatively high number of fans who follow the championship and our national tournament, which is a kind of cup competition. What are your best memories with the Korean team?

Oh: The ’92 Olympic Games and the ’95 World Championship. We won with the help of our coach Joung Hyoung Gun. He was my coach in the national team and also in my club and he had a great influence on my career.

I’m proud of these victories, but I will always remember the Olympic Games in Beijing as well. And not because of that semi-final game. I know that we could have won the tournament and I’m very proud that I could be there and win a medal at the age of 37. You have played in Korea and in Japan. What is the difference between playing in Asia and Europe?

Oh: Asian players are small and quick in general, while Europeans are bigger and stronger. The game here is based on power, so this is also an advantage for me here.

However, the clubs and the players are just as professionals in Asia and there is also a similar marketing related to the game. Did you follow European handball from over there?

Oh: That’s a world apart… Of course, there are fanatics who watch European handball on the internet or elsewhere, but it’s not easy with the time difference between the two continents. So we concentrated on our competitions. A world apart, as you say… There seems to be a huge difference in mentality, first of all. Korean teams appear shockingly disciplined for European eyes…

Oh (left) with two Korean team mates in HypoOh: Players at home are more restrained and enjoy more freedom here. However, this whole difference comes from the Asian culture. Hierarchy is important for us. We respect older people and also our bosses or coaches.

If the coach says something, that’s what we will do. And while it seems for Europeans that there is a severe discipline imposed on the players, it is just a sign of respect. How could you get used to the mentality over here?

Oh: It’s still not easy. There is no hierarchy here; everyone just knows it better… When the coach says something, questions keep coming. Difficult to get used to it, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t help it. There are many talents in Korean handball, nevertheless, only few of them come to play to Europe. Why is that?

Oh: It’s far away, but that’s not all. Family ties are tighter in Korea and people do not leave the country so easily. I’m not a young girl, but my mother, for example, is still very much worried about me living here.

And then comes the communication problem as not many Korean players speak European languages. In addition, there is always a doubt in you whether you would be able to make the grade and it’s a high risk. You decided to try Europe. Why?

Oh: I was always interested in European handball. When my son was born, I decided that I would show him the world, so I played in Japan and now in Europe.

Austria is a beautiful country and everything is so close here. We can see the whole of Europe.

Oh lost her first CL Final last What is it like to live and play in Austria?

Oh: It was difficult at the beginning, but then you slowly get to know everything around you. We enjoy it now and my son also has a good school, so we are satisfied. What would make you satisfied on the court – especially after winning almost every title possible?

Oh: Well, I have Olympic, World Championship and Asian Games gold medals. The last thing I can still possibly win during my career would be the Champions League. Do you believe in it?

Oh: When I arrived to Hypo, I thought it would be unachievable because there are so many strong teams in this competition. Today I know well that Hypo are always candidates for the title. It was always just so little to separate us from the final victory.

This year we have a chance again. But I know for sure that I will win this title sometime in the next three years. This is the time I’m planning to spend on the handball courts…

TEXT: Balázs Nemcsik