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Fans from near and far inspire local stars

Korea may not have the reputation that Malaysia or Indonesia does for boisterous badminton crowds but the local fans made their impact today at the semi-finals of the 2012 Victor Korea Open as the home favourites nailed a massive upset in the women's doubles competition.

Yu Yang (SF)The seemingly invincible women’s doubles world #1’s Wang Xiaoli / Yu Yang (pictured right), who had a clean sweep of all 5 OSIM BWF Superseries Premier titles in 2011, will not be repeating their feat in 2012 as they have been shown the exit at the semi-final of the first Superseries Premier event in 2012.

Some of the most intense drama on semi-finals day was not on the central TV court but rather on the adjacent court, where a pair of Korea-China battles women’s doubles matches kept the crowd on the edges of their seats and finally an all-Korean men’s doubles contest went deep into extra points before producing a winner just a few metres from the front row of spectators.

The gate figure estimate came in at around 2000 spectators but this year’s slightly smaller venue made this look very close to a capacity crowd. Naturally, it was made up of all ages and backgrounds, and we met a few of them.

One member of the crowd, a mother of two, actually shares her name, Kim Yeon-a, with Korea’s most famous sports figure, the 2010 Olympic figure skating gold medallist.

Ms. Kim is a player herself and only took up the game a year ago.  This is her second visit to the Victor Korea Open, to which she drove up from Ansan, 80 kilometres to the south, with a friend from her badminton club, who told her of the event.

Crowd (SF)“My favourite Korean player is Lee Yong Dae. I don’t actually know any of the players from outside Korea,” says Ms. Kim.

Asked which match she enjoyed the most, she replied, “The last one. It was great watching two Korean teams playing each other and the finish was very exciting.”

Over in another section, Kim Won Chan and his wife are clearly regulars.

“We’ve been coming here for 14 years,” says Mr. Kim. “I had to be content to watch it on TV when it was held down in Cheju Island way back when but when it moved up to Chungju, and Incheon, and since it’s been here in Seoul, I’ve been to every one.

Mr. Kim is from the immediate area and plays badminton regularly at the nearby Jangji Badminton Gymnasium.

His favourite Korean player is currently Lee Yong Dae but in the past he says he cheered a lot for Korean greats Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min, Lee Dong Soo / Yoo Yong Sung, and before that, for Kim Moon Soo and Park Joo Bong.

Ha-Kim (SF)As for international players, Mr. Kim says he has also always liked Peter Gade, the four-time champion from Denmark.

In between cheering points in the final game of the second women’s doubles semi-final, Mr. Kim said, “The best match of the day will be this one, if Korea wins, of course. It is just so exciting when someone can find a way past the Great Wall of China.”

As it turned out, the crowd support was a major factor for the Korean players.

“In the third game, I could feel my lower back going and I had to get it sprayed,” Kim Min Jung (pictured right) recalled after her match.

“Then the crowd started chanting Ooshiah! Ooshiah! and it really gave me a boost of strength to finish the match.”

With a world #1, and two #2’s awaiting the Koreans in Sunday’s finals, they will again need all the help on offer.

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