The inimitable hockey duo “17 years after tasting gold…I’m hungry

South Korean hockey captains Lee Nam-yong (left) and Jang Jong-hyun are aiming for their first Asian Games gold medal in 17 years. Lee is known for his ability to hit the ball with his stick, while Jang is a dedicated penalty corner shooter. By Kim Jong-ho
South Korean hockey captains Lee Nam-yong (left) and Jang Jong-hyun are looking to win their first Asian Games gold medal in 17 years. Lee is known for his ability to bounce the ball off his stick, while Jang is a penalty corner shooter. Reporter Jong Ho Kim

“If I can win one more Asian Games gold medal, I don’t have any more wishes.”

Lee Nam-yong (40) and Jang Jong-hyun (39), the “veteran duo” of the South Korean men’s hockey team, dream of a golden finale at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. They are living legends of Korean hockey. Jang Jong-hyun holds the record for most caps (321), while Lee Nam-yong is second all-time (300). This is after two decades of consistent national team play. Despite their illustrious careers, both players are still hungry.

Lee and Jang Jong-hyun were the youngest members of their national team to win gold at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. Since then, men’s hockey has been on a downward spiral, and even podium finishes have been difficult. The men’s team finished fourth at Guangzhou 2010, bronze at Incheon 2014, and fifth at Jakarta-Palembang 2018. The winner of the tournament will receive a direct ticket to next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

“In Doha, I just did what my older brothers told me to do,” said Lee Nam-yong, the oldest member of the team. I thought I could easily win a second gold medal, but I am now 40. This is actually my last challenge, and I will definitely give Jong Hyun-i a gold medal and the juniors the joy of winning and qualifying for the Olympics.”

Jang Jong-hyun, the second oldest vice captain, was confident, saying, “When I go to international competitions, my friends from other countries who have already become leaders are surprised and say, ‘You are still active,’ but if you ignore the experience of an elderly man who has beaten his juniors who are in their 20s and wears the Taeguk mark, it will be a big mistake.”

Lee Nam-yong is a striker. He usually plays on the left flank before cutting into the center, where his specialty is a strong and precise scoop (a technique that uses his stick to float the ball). It is said to resemble Son Heung-min’s (Tottenham) proprietary wind-up kick, hence the nickname “Hockey Son”. He is also similar in that he is a ‘captain’ and his main weapon is his speed. His tactical value is high because he has the versatility to play defense depending on the team’s situation.

Lee Nam-yong is also a terrible practice bee. He grits his teeth and perseveres through hellish training sessions that even his juniors would give up on. He says, “Sometimes it’s so hard that I feel nauseous. But I don’t want to hear the words ‘I’m too old to keep up’. When I get back to my room (after training), there’s not a part of me that doesn’t hurt,” he laughs.

Jang Jong-hyun is a defender. He doesn’t shy away from getting into fights with big European players, and he’ll even throw his body to block their hits. The secret to his longevity is that he is a dedicated penalty corner shooter (a player who receives a penalty corner pass and takes a shot). A penalty corner is a set play that starts 9 meters from the goal (goal line). It’s similar to a corner kick or free kick in soccer. It is rare for a defender to be a dedicated shooter because of the difficult shooting technique required.

This is why Jang Jong-hyun has been compared to soccer’s Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich), who is known as a “goal-scoring defender”. As a rookie, he practiced more than 400 extra penalty corner drills every day after team training to perfect his shot. At the Doha Asian Games, he was the top scorer with 15 goals using this technique. His unusual resume has led him to play in professional leagues in Germany and the Netherlands, two of the world’s hockey powerhouses.

Jang Jong-hyun usually plays on the left side. He plays with Lee Nam-yong on the left front. “There are many games where we won because I scored a goal from Jonghyun’s pass,” says Lee. I hope to win the gold medal in Hangzhou with a pass from Jonghyun.” “I spend eight months of the year with my brother Nam Yong-yi. We first met in 2002, so we are like a couple with 20 years of experience,” he said, adding, “I know the timing of his passes just by looking at his eyes.”

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