FILA Legends: 2012 Olympian Kim Hyeon Woo

By Mike Riordan

Kim Hyeon Woo, Carrying the Torch for Korean Wrestling's

Date of birth: 06-11-1988

Weight: 75 kg

Place of birth: Wonju, Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea’s first gold medal as an independent nation came in 1976 when wrestler Yang Jung Mu stood on the podium and listened as his country’s national anthem played through the Olympic stadium.

Almost 40 years later, it’s another wrestler, 2012 Olympic Champion Kim Hyeon Woo who will look to take his national team to a new level of dominance. After winning his gold in London, Kim lead a talented team of Greco-Roman wrestlers to the 2013 World Championships in Budapest and finished second as a team..

Following their performance in Budapest, the Korean Greco-Roman team traveled south for a joint training camp with the Japanese. Kim, fresh off his triumph in the finals of the World Championships, became the topic of high praise from his Japanese hosts.

Kim particularly impressed Shigeki Nishiguchi, the head coach of Japan Greco Roman national team, 

“He believes in himself very much,” says Nishiguchi. “I don't think that because he won the World Championships in September, he is confident, rather, because he is so confident, he won the World Championships. He gets the confidence from practicing so hard.”

“His technique is the same as the Japanese wrestlers, but his belief is very strong.”

Nishiguchi also noticed that Kim was as aggressive and competitive in the practice rom, as he was in competition.

“I figured Kim would hide some of his wrestling ability and technique while in Japan. However, he did no such thing. It's as if he said 'Please look at my wrestling and technique. If you can imitate, please imitate, please! '”

Takaharu Nakamura, a top Japanese wrestler at 74 kg, found that Kim had not lost any of his physical power since moving up in weight from 66 kg to 74 kg.

“I did not feel the difference in strength with him,” Nakamura observed. “His hand fighting is great. I was able to match the first half, but the last, he beat me because he exhausted me.”

Kim proved himself superior to his Japanese counterparts, and over the last couple years, he has done the same with his competition across the entire world. At age 25 and already a world and Olympic champion, Kim looks to be the centerpiece of Korean Greco-Roman dominance for years to come. Though Korea's program finds itself in an enviable position now, this has not always been the case.

Prior to the 2012 games, Korean wrestling was in dire straights. In the 2008 Beijing Games, Korea failed to earn a gold medal in Olympic wrestling for the first time since 1972. The 2012 Games offered a chance for redemption, and an opportunity to reignite the embers of a proud wrestling history. Korea sent three medal hopefuls in Greco-Roman to London, and the first two failed to make the podium. The hopes of an entire nation fell on the shoulders of Kim.

Kim did not disappoint. Bruised and battered, with a broken thumb and eye swollen shut, he battled past one opponent after another. In the semifinals, Kim defeated defending Olympic gold medalist Steeve Guenot of France, and in the finals he bested Hungarian star Tomas Loerincz. Kim did not only win the gold medal, he rescued Korean wrestling from disaster, and provided the spark that would propel his country's return to prominence.

Kim did not intend to rest on his laurels, he wanted to find new challenges at a new weight. He moved up to 74 kg, where he knew Russian Olympic gold medalist Roman Vlasov awaited him. Heading into the 2013 World Championships, the Korean understood the tall task ahead of him.

“I competed in the 74kg class of the Asian Championships in April 2013. At this time, honestly, I had confidence I would win,” Kim recalled. “For the World Championships , I would fight as an underdog because Roman Vlasov continued to win in all competitions in 2011 and 2012.”

Despite his underdog status, he defeated Vlasov in the world finals, winning the match between reigning Olympic champions. Kim attributed his victory to his preparation.

“I think the reason I was able to beat Vlasov is because I watched Vlasov and studied him. I think, even though I was inferior in strength, I was able to excel in stamina in the second half of the match. I think this is why I won.”

After his gold medal performance in London, and his defeat of Vlasov in Budapest, Kim now stands alone as the best in the world in Greco-Roman. In 2012, he snatched Korean wrestling back from the threshold of irrelevance, and now carries the torch for wrestling fans in Korea and around the world.