(ATR) The new president of the Korean Olympic Committee tells Around the Rings he’s ready to win medals and build the reputation of the NOC.
Kee Heung Lee was elected in October to lead the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, a new organization formed in 2016. The new sports body is the result of the merger of the Korean Sports Council and the Korean Olympic Committee. The merger is supposed to create an organization that combines the training and promotion of elite Korean athletes with the activities of the NOC.
"The Korean NOC has a key role to play to make support athletes so they win medals," Lee tells Around the Rings in Sapporo, Japan where he was attending the Asian Winter Games that ended Feb. 26.
Lee was on hand Sunday as the bulk of the Korean team returned from Sapporo. Korean finished second in the medals table with 50 overall, 16 gold. Japan placed first.
Lee says he is expecting the Asian Games to help improve the medal chances for South Korea at the hometown Games in PyeongChang next February.
He says six to eight gold medals are his goal. The Vancouver Winter Games of 2010 have been the best finish so far for South Korea with 14 medals, six gold.
"We’ve made a task force to support PyeongChang 2018 athletes and coaches," Lee says. Short track speedskating, snowboard and freestyle ski are events being targeted for medals in 2018, Lee says.
The sports leader says he would like to explore the possibility of hosting another Asian Winter Games following the PyeongChang experience. The 1999 games were held in the same region. Lee is also keen on the the series of consecutive Olympics in Asia, saying Korea sport will benefit from the proximityof Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing in 2022.
Lee, 61, is the former president of the Korean Swimming Federation. In 2012 he served as chef de mission for the South Korean team for the London Olympics.
His election four months ago was marked with some controversy over whether ineligible delegates were allowed to cast ballots. While an appeal has been filed, Lee says he is confident the results of the election will be upheld. His term runs until 2021.
As one of the world’s most important NOCs, Lee says he looks forward to the day when South Korea will take a place again on the executive board of the Olympic Council of Asia. And he says one day Korea may gain a new member of the IOC. While the Korean Olympic Committee president has in the past served on the IOC, it’s not automatic. Currently there are two members in South Korea. One is Seung Min Ryu, elected a member of the IOC Athletes Commission in Rio de Janeiro for an eight-year term. But less certain is the IOC tenure of senior member Kun Hee Lee, 75, chairman of Samsung Electronics. In poor health, he has been incapacitated since a heart attack more than two years ago.
"I welcome that opportunity if it comes," says Lee about the possibility of serving on the IOC but adds there are other candidates.
"We have many qualified men and women in Korea," he says.
Lee says he hopes North Korea chooses to participate in the 2018 Winter Games, the first Winter Games on the Korean Peninsula. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
"We will welcome our brothers and sisters from North Korea. But it is their decision to make," he says.
"Sport should be instrumental in social unity," says the Korean Olympic leader.
Written by Ed Hula.
20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.