Woo Sang-hyuk ‘returns home with 18kg trophy’ “I will challenge my best time at the Asian Games”

“Korea’s first history-making superstar is here!”

Woo Sang-hyuk (27, Yongin City Hall), who is on his way to becoming a “living legend” in Korean athletics, arrived at Incheon International Airport Terminal 2 on the afternoon of the 19th ahead of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. Woo won the men’s high jump at the World Athletics Federation Diamond League Final 2023 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, USA, on Sunday (June 17) with a personal outdoor best of 2.35 meters, beating his rival Jubon Harrison (USA-2m33). Woo is the first Korean athlete to qualify for the Diamond League Finals and win a title at the same time. Last year, Woo finished seventh in the Diamond League rankings (16 points) and missed out on the top-six final, but this year he made history by competing in four of the six Diamond League high jump events (Doha, Rome, Florence, Zurich and Stockholm), earning 20 ranking points and qualifying fourth overall. As he arrived at the airport with the Diamond League Finals trophy clutched tightly in his hands, Woo told reporters, “It feels like I’m coming back (to Korea) after a month and a half. “I was not without pressure because I unfortunately finished sixth at the World Championship,” he said. “I was disappointed, but after that, I felt a little more relaxed, and I think I was able to find what I needed to improve and prove it until the final and win the title.

The Diamond League Final win also secured her a spot at next year’s Summer Olympics in Paris. The Olympic standard for the high jump in Paris is 2.33 meters. The qualifying period is from July 1 to June 30 next year. Woo passed the standard early, giving him time to prepare for the Games without any pressure. For now, Woo’s sights are set on Hangzhou, China. It will be Woo’s third consecutive Asian Games, following Incheon 2014 and Jakarta-Palembang 2018. In his first competition as a high school student in Incheon, he finished 10th overall with a jump of 2m20. At Jakarta-Palembang, where he was improving, he jumped 2m28 to take the silver medal. The biggest obstacle on the way to gold will be Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar). Barshim won back-to-back titles in Guangzhou in 2010 (2m27) and Incheon in 2014 (2m35). Barshim, who missed Jakarta-Palembang with an injury, will be looking to regain the Asian Games title after a nine-year absence, skipping the Diamond League Final to focus on the Hangzhou Asian Games. Woo broke the Korean record at Tokyo 2020 with a leap of 2.35m (4th), and he followed that up with another Korean record of 2.36m at the Hustopec Indoor Championships in February last year.

Woo Sang-hyuk traveled straight from Incheon Airport to the Jincheon National Athletes’ Village in Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, where he will try to become the first Korean to win an Asian Games high jump gold medal in 21 years after Lee Jin-taek won the event in Bangkok in 1998 and Busan in 2002. The high jump at the Hangzhou Asian Games will be held next month, with the preliminaries on the morning of February 2 and the final on the afternoon of February 4.

Here’s a one-on-one with Woo.

-On returning home after winning the Diamond League Final.

“It feels like I’ve been back for a month and a half now. I’ve played five matches, so I’ve played a lot. I went there with the goal of the World Championships, but I think there was some pressure because I finished sixth. I was disappointed to finish sixth, but now I feel a little more relaxed after that, and I think I was able to find the things I needed to work on and prove them in the final, which is why I won.”

-On the feeling of holding the winner’s trophy in his hands.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing in the Diamond League, watching YouTube in the morning, and then the Finals, always watching YouTube and thinking, ‘Is that really possible?’ It was a dream when I was a kid, like it was real. I just wanted to play, and I never thought I would win. It was just a dream, and I feel like I realized my childhood dream.”

-On whether he had a premonition of victory.

“I don’t know, I just wanted to win, I just felt like I needed to win this one to really motivate myself a little bit more. I thought it would feel good for the Paris Olympics next year or the Asian Games right around the corner. So I just did what I was practicing. I just wanted to stick to what I’ve been doing, and it reflected a little bit more, and it reflected the moves that I wanted in the final.”

-On how it felt to lift the trophy after her win.

“I felt good because I jumped 2m35 in the first round and I felt a little bit bold, so I jumped even bolder in the second round. Even in the second round, I felt like I was going to jump it. So I thought, ‘I’m going to jump it in the third round,’ and I did. I jumped too many competitions before. I could have gone for the next height, but in the end I won, so I’m going for my best at the Asian Games.”

-She said she was disappointed with the World Championships.

“I didn’t win right away (after the World Championships). A week later, I was third again, and then Varshim won, so that gave me a lot of motivation. Obviously, I think athletes change their times by two or three centimeters under the slightest pressure. The goal was only gold. The 2m36 was a challenge. Now that I’ve gotten that feedback, I’ve incorporated it a little bit more (into the Diamond League Final). If you don’t know, I did a lot of 2m35, 2m36 challenges. I did a lot of 2m37, but I didn’t get as much feedback on that as I did on the challenge.”

-On why she gained weight during her overseas tour.

“I’m more of a new routine kind of guy than a pre-made routine. My biggest race was the World Championships. For a while, I was doing what I was used to, but then after the Worlds, I was introduced to new routines, new ways of doing things. It was more fun and exciting. I think the new challenges make me a little bit more motivated and excited.”

-Barshim on her competition at the Asian Games 먹튀검증.

“I think all the close matches were in the first 2m33. I think that’s where the psychological battle is reflected. It’s all about who controls the flow. At the World Championships, I lost the momentum because I didn’t get past the first lap, so this time I have to get past the first lap and take control. I think the initiative will come when you run with that goal, so at the Asian Games I will try to clear all the heights in the first round. I need to focus on the rest of my preparation, including image training.”

-On her preparations for the Asian Games.

“I won a silver medal at the Asian Games, so now I want to win a gold medal, and then I want to win an Olympic medal. Every athlete’s final goal is the Grand Slam (World Championships, Olympics, and Asian Games), and I want to do it all. I want to go to every competition and win my first title, I want to win a medal, and I want to do as much as I can at the Asian Games. Even if I don’t, I think I’ll get it one day if I keep trying, and I won’t give up until the end.”