First Korean Gymnastics Champion Lives in a ‘Greenhouse’

Jang Woong correcting Yang Hak-seon's medal

Yang Hak-seon, the very first South Korean gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal, became one of the most beloved athletes in Korea through his golden performance. In particular, Korean netizens began calling for him to appear in television commercials when they discovered his humble beginnings: Yang still lives in a single-room greenhouse with his parents. Meanwhile, his performance also seems to have impressed the other Korea, with internet newspaper Daily NK reporting that North Korea’s IOC member Jang Woong [picture left] paid special attention to Yang during the medal ceremony.

From Nate:

Men’s vault Olympic Champion Yang’s humble beginnings stir the hearts of Koreans

Yang Hak-seon (20, Korea National Sport University), the first Korean to win an Olympic gold medal in the men’s vault, is once again making Koreans emotional, as the press revealed his run-down house made from PVC.

Yang won a gold medal with an average score of 16.5333 in men’s vault final at North Greenwich Arena on the August 6 (KST). He demonstrated a perfect balance of the three prime forces necessary in vault, which are running, stamping, and pushing. His excellent performance allowed him to win the first ever South Korean gymnastics gold, as well as the nation’s 11th gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

'Front gate' of Yang Hak-seon's greenhouse

Yang, who set a record in South Korean Gymnastics history, is gathering attention for his humble beginnings, and for his love and devotion for his parents. His father, Yang Gwan-gwon (53) is a cement renderer and his mother, Ki Sook-hyang (43), is a factory worker. South Koreans are impressed that despite living in a house constructed from PVC, they did not lose hope and raised the medallist with positive attitude.

Yang’s PVC home is in Gochang , North Jeolla Province. It is basically a slightly ‘remodelled greenhouse’, with Yang’s neatly organised trophies and medals in one corner lighting up the place.

Yang Hak-seon's medals and trophies

Yang’s medals and trophies displayed in the corner of his home.

Yang Hak-seon's parents, cheering their son

Yang’s parents cheer on their son.

In particular, his father hung pictures on the wall that captured his son’s mistakes, in hope of improving his skills even more.

Yang never shied away from showing his dreams of winning a gold medal and building a decent house for his parents; now he seems to closer to that dream, having won the medal as he had always wanted.

Comments from Nate:

김보라:

ㅠㅠ Wow I admire him.. And it’s even more impressive that his parents has been able to support his dream, even though they’re so poor. I’m proud of you, Yang! Keep up the good work, aim for three-time winner of Olympics, perhaps! You’re so young, go for it!

윤석준:

Hak-seon, your life is so inspiring. You’re younger than me, but your strength and diligence are straightening me up. If I meet you someday, I’d like to say, ‘Thank you’, and give you a hug.

이동주:

I checked for South Korea’s medal list this morning, and a gold medal had been added. It was a gymnastics medal. They said ‘Yang Hak-seon was excellent blah blah’ ke ke, and I thought his name was some gymnastic skill. I’m sorry. Your name includes ‘hak’[which sounds the same as ‘crane’ in Korean], so I thought it’s supposed to depict the bird’s move or something. I’ll remember your name from now on. Good job!

이유진:

I hope he gets plenty of TV commercial proposals. Not just because of his poor background — I genuinely want to see him on TV ㅠㅠ There are a number of ad campaigns that can benefit from contracting with him as a commercial model: ‘Yang’s neat, clean motions. Six-motion drum washing machine’, ‘healthy beverages’, ‘comfortable bed that ensures a firm-landing.’ Mr Yang, you rock! I hope to see you more often. You gave us our very first gymnastics medal!! I’m so proud of you!!

강보람:

I think he’ll look nice on Korean Airline commercials, with his soft, flying performances. (It’s merely my opinion ke ke) Besides that, I hope he can get a lot of TV advertisement proposals ke ke

김하나:

Yang Hak-seon belongs to IB Sports. He couldn’t even get basic supports from the company, so he had to send everything he earned as a Taereung athlete (800,000 won) to his parents. I don’t really care about IB giving all attention to Son Yeon-jae , talking about her ‘airport style’ and so on. I just want them to stay away from Yang’s additional income because they didn’t give a shit about his welfare. I don’t want to see another case of unfair distribution of an athlete’s incomes like Kim Yu-na. Congratulations, Yang! I admire your loving heart for your parents!

김영성:

Stop hiring Son Yeon-jae as a TV commercial model and replace with Yang.

김한별:

Why do I feel angry, even though Yang just won a gold medal? Let’s compare him with Son Yeon-jae. Son Yeon-jae: She hasn’t won many medals; actually, she barely manages to make to the finals, let alone getting a gold medal, if she gets anything at all. However, the press was fucking busy churning up news about her, making her famous and popular. She must have earned a fortune by appearing on TV commercials. She hasn’t even got an Olympic medal, yet she gets the most attention. She’s been on a lot of Samsung commercials in particular. Yang Hak-seon: He created a new gymnastic move under his name, which is acknowledged by the International Gymnastics Federation as one of the most difficult skills with a highest score. He was one of the strongest contenders for the gold medal, and he won the first South Korean gymnastics gold. He deserves more credit than Son Yeon-jae, yet we all had no idea who he was before the Olympics. If Yang had got a couple of TV commercial contracts like Ms Son, he could have built a nice house for his parents and focused on training in a better environment. What the hell is wrong with those journalists and businesses that have been showering an incompetent athlete like Ms Son with money and fame, even when the Olympics hadn’t even started?Finally, I’m not bitching on Ms Son. I’m just irritated by the fact that Son Yeon-jae is overvalued, shadowing the rest of athletes who are training under difficult circumstances; she hasn’t done anything special to honour the nation yet. Just imagine what would have happened if Yang didn’t get a gold medal. He would’ve remained unknown, even though he was a strong contender; on the other hand, Ms Son would’ve still enjoyed her fame and fortune. What would you feel if you were in his shoes? Hey you people who down-voted my comment, think about that. If you were one of those unfortunate athletes, wouldn’t you feel the same way?

유경진:

I heard his father is clinically depressed for some reason. I hope his father gets well and will be able to support him with his mother to become an even greater athlete.

이호정:

Seriously, the company that proposes Mr Yang a commercial contract will earn my full support!!

박성희:

You can’t imagine what it is like living in a greenhouse. I really hope his big heart and gold medal will bring him a lot of money by appearing a bunch of TV commercials and buy a new house for his parents, preparing for the next Olympics comfortably. I won’t forget his boyish smile after the competition, searching for the national flag!!

장슬기:

Yang is so inspiring for some of us who have been blaming our parents for our own incompetence. I admire him ♥

이성표:

Ah! I’m pissed off with Ms Son manipulating the press. Somebody earned a gold medal whilst living in a greenhouse. She travels in ‘business class’, sleeps in fancy hotel rooms; she has her private therapist, even though she barely manages to rank top 10 perhaps with help of score manipulation. Seriously, guys, let’s make Mr Yang famous instead of Ms Son.

이상원:

Ms Son and Mr Yang are both belong to IB Sports. Ms Son is treated like a celebrity whilst Mr Yang’s house is disclosed; is the company trying to manipulate the media?

송지홍:

Why are some of you bitching on Kim Yu-na? Son Yeon-jae is the one who deserves such comments ;;; She hasn’t even won ANY medals, it’s not fair for Kim Yu-na to be compared with Ms Son. Most anti-fans are moronic.

김영민:

I feel so relieved that he got a gold medal. I’m crying.. ㅠㅠ I watched KBS’ ‘Screening Humanity’ the other day, and five brother who were gymnasts living in countryside were on the show. They said their parents let them do gymnastics because it’s one of the cheapest sports. ㅠㅠ And they’re good at it. Seeing Yang’s house reminded me of the show. ㅠㅠ

송경태:

Hey, Chief Commercial Officers.. Grab Mr Yang! You’ll get my full attention, it would be better than hiring Ms Son.

이예나:

‘** Airline, fly the world with Yang.’ Are you looking at this, airliners? Go and send him a TV ad campaign proposal! ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke

조현민:

Let Yang have all those TV commercials that Kim Yu-na is on.

김윤진:

Omg.. living in a greenhouse in this super-hot weather? ㅠㅠ

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  • Opalivian

    I heard he has a sofa or two in the greenhouse?

  • Brett Sanbon

    Man, his vaults were awesome. Anyone else see his performance?

    The Olympic opening ceremonies are so over-done and many of the events so flawed that the games are truly a bore to watch. I think the best part of the Olympics is hearing the stories behind the athletes.

    Also, why are hockey, water polo, handball and golf Olympic sports, but baseball got the sack?

    • Snarl

      Politics, of course. Adding baseball to the lineup of events would all but ensure another gold medal for the USA, and the IOC absolutely loathes the USA.

      • somesojuslammer

        Shutup. Baseball isn’t an international sport. You’re lucky enough to have basketball in the Olympics.

        What about Nascar? Starcraft? UFC? Jumping on one foot while tapping your head? Baseball is on the same level as them.

        • Brett Sanbon

          I disagree that baseball isn’t an international sport and I argue that more countries have more people playing baseball, than they do hockey, water polo, or handball. Golf is comparable to allowing billiards or darts in the Olympics.

          Why is Snarl lucky to have basketball in the Olympics? Is Snarl America? Is Basketball only played in America? Are baseball, basketball, soccer (football), hockey, golf, water polo, tennis, badminton, rugby, ping pong, any more than games to be enjoyed?

          Why is baseball on the same level as the activities you mentioned? Because it is a game? So is soccer (football). Soccer is merely more accessible throughout the world and it is enjoyed by people just about everywhere.

          Rugby will be admitted into the 2016 Olympics. Is it more of a sport than a game? Some may argue it is more entertaining because there are collisions, but not everyone feels that way. Is Rugby more internationally enjoyed than baseball? Most popular and best rugby teams in the world are England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand (also Argentina, France, and Fiji). Spot anything strange about that list? I like rugby and soccer (football), but I also like baseball and think it is unfair that other games are allowed but baseball isn’t.

          Also, within the next 10-15 Olympics (40-60 years), I wouldn’t be surprised if computer gaming becomes an event. Thats just the direction this world is headed.

        • Yohan

          I think cricket is more widespread and played internationally than baseball, and cricket is only played by a handfull of former British colonies.

        • Snarl

          Jumping on one foot is in the Olympics. You don’t even have to tap your head.
          Instead of mouthing off about baseball, which you obviously know nothing about, why don’t you actually try playing it?
          By the way, you have no idea where I’m from, so to return your tactless gesture, shutup.

      • Chucky3176

        Snarl, the last Olympic gold in baseball was won by South Korea who defeated Cuba. USA hasn’t really dominated in Olympics since they don’t send their pro players during the Major League season. I guess the IOC didn’t like the fact that only a few countries (USA, Korea, Cuba, Japan) keep rotating to get all the medals.

        • Brett Sanbon

          Ping pong, badminton, womens gymnastics, couples figure skating… dont they always have the same winners too?

        • BigCAD

          Taiwan as well, bit of a shame as it gave them a good chance of claiming some more silverware. Their Olympic Gold in the event actually features on their 500 yuan note. At least it was given up to the worthwhile cause which is rugby sevens.

      • Mishima Zaibatsu

        Baseball was a medal sport in five Olympics, from 1992 to 2008. The US won one gold and two bronzes. Not exactly Phelpsian domination. That being said, I wish it was still an Olympic sport. I know nothing about cricket, but it seems like another sport that should be added. Rugby as well. If they’re top ten sports in terms of international popularity (at least according to some of the data cited by others), then it doesn’t make sense to exclude them.

        • somesojuslammer

          Oh please Bret/Snarl, the only people pushing for shit like Baseball, Handegg and Nascar are Americans and possibly a few Japs/Cubans.

          Rugby cricket and soccer deserve to be there. No one wants to build a stadium (or two) just for some baseball games. Luckily enough basketball doesn’t need it’s own “park” so it survives in the Olympics.

          Brett, just because you “like” a game doesn’t mean it should be included in the Olympics. I’d rather see poker than Baseball. Am I on the commitee who decides these things? No. My opinion is as useless as yours or snarl’s.

          • Snarl

            Actually, Israel, Croatia, Australia, and the Czech Republic, to name a few, all have competitive baseball leagues. Some, such as the Czech Republic are quite impressive.
            Since I am paid for my opinions, somesojuslammer, I would say that your opinion is probably more useless than mine, but it’s pointless to continue this conversation in the anonymity of the internet. That is, until through some act of legislative stupidity (or perhaps genius), everyone’s IP address is revealed to the world, and then your (no-doubt) long history of condescending remarks and infantile opinions on the internet will be stapled to your forehead in real life. In all fairness, though, many others are much worse than you.

          • Brett Sanbon

            So baseball shouldnt be allowed because it needs its own park? With all the amazing architects that help to build stadiums, no one could come up with a convertible stadium? Californian MLB and NFL have had one for a couple decades.

          • BigCAD

            Baseball would of worked perfectly fine at any cricket ground, in fact Lords cricket ground (site of the archery) had hosted games before.

          • somesojuslammer

            Snarl, no one believes you. If by chance someone did pay you, do you avoid a real opinion in favor of attacking the character of others? By your logic, why not add American Football and Nascar? What about Starcraft or Counter-strike? Where do you draw the line? Now write a rebuttal, not a character assassination.

            Brett, the stadium is just one thing barring it. I don’t imagine places like Athens or England have much use for a baseball/handegg park? Wouldn’t the dimensions be useless for football/rugby? Perhaps cricket? (never bothered watching it).

          • Snarl

            I don’t care if you don’t believe me, somesojuslammer. That was the point of the ‘internet is anonymous’ commment. And if you read carefully (if you can read at all), the comments about your character were unrelated to the content of my message. Character attacks can be used in an adversarial discussion to test the opponent’s ability to focus on the discussion, which you clearly cannot.
            If you follow the sequence of this conversation, you have no standing to ask for civility (ie. a non-adversarial discussion). I’ve answered you on the grounds of premise already in the course of this conversation, and I don’t need to comment further.

    • Paul M

      I don’t think golf is an Olympic sport any more. I’m disappointed in GB adding women’s boxing as I think they missed a golden opportunity to have darts included as an Olympic sport. It would be awesome to see beer swilling men with their bellies hanging over their belts waddling in the opening ceremony parade.

      • RotBot

        Golf is being added back for 2016. To be honest, I don’t care about any individual sport that I can see on TV every weekend being in the Olympics. That goes for tennis, too. With popular team sports, at least you have interesting rosters that are differentiated from professional leagues. Golf and tennis at the Olympics looks pretty much exactly like golf and tennis any given Sunday. Why waste my time watching them when I could watch any of the obscure, weirdo sports only televised every 4 years.

      • BigCAD

        Golf was added to the list of Olympic sports the other year, unsure why they didn’t at least hold an exhibition tourny during London in either that or sevens, UK does happen to have a good number of rugby grounds and golf clubs….possibly the sinister hand of the sponsors at work.

        • C84

          Golf and tennis are examples of sports that should not be in the Olympics. I know they’re widely played and very popular sports (well, maybe golf less than tennis – golf is more of a country club, upper class kind of sport), but both sports are dominated by professionals that earn millions of dollars. Both sports have their four respective majors – the highest honors in their sports. It’s unclear as to where the Olympics, an event without any prize money and with no long history of having these sports, fits in terms of prestige and reputation in these sports. The problem is that the Olympics has become supersized and a huge financial/logistical/legacy burden on the hosting countries. I think they need to leave a few sports off for Rio 2016.

    • ric

      there are a few sports i thnk aren’t popular internationally to be concidered a olympic sport and baseball is on the list… baseball is only played in a dozen or so countries so a better question is why did baseball even get a chance at being olympic?

  • 참을 수 없는 존재의 가벼움

    Despite his obscurity for the general public, in marked contrast to oversized spotlight into sports celebrities, gymnast Yang proved himeself to be a man of great resilience under hard living conditions.

    I hope the gymnasyics winner will relish his glory after at least four years of painful single-munded exertions

    You are a true hero for South Korea.

  • asswiper

    does he want to live in that house or has no choice?
    i hope now that he has won at the olympics he will buy a better place to live in.
    his parents too…

    • Hyeon

      fortunately after he got a gold medal, Many of people heard his story from media that He went though out hard life with his parent for victory in olympics. Becasue of that, one of construction company gave one place of apartment for their family which they are building, and many of other company announced to support him. even if they wanted to support him for their company reputation, anyway all of thing is good for him and his family. I was really happy to hear that.

    • :)

      His family couldn’t afford to live in the house they lived in before the greenhouse because his father, a construction worker, got injured and lost his job as a result of that. That was back in 2010.

      No one knew about his living situation until after he won the Olympic gold, not even his coach. He supported his family with what little income he got from the Korea Gymnastic Association.

      Now that his family’s situation has come to light, a lot of people are helping his family.

  • lonetrey

    Hmm, a greenhouse is by no means the worst place to live in, but maybe now they can move into a more modern home. Congratulations to Mr. Yang Hak-seon on his performance and winning the gold medal!

  • galap

    Is he the guy that was proposed 6 months or more worth of Shin Ramen?
    It created an outrage among netizens

  • Beth

    This story just amazes me, particularly when you consider how much Korean parents spend on “educating” their children through cram schools, music lessons, sports lessons. Then Yang appears, having had none of those advantages in life, and blows everyone away. Fantastic. Presumably he didn’t practice much at home, though…

  • Paul M

    Wow, their greenhouse looks better than an apartment that’s been provided by a hagwon.

    That’s one of the great things about the Olympics. It allows people from all backgrounds to compete as equals… well at least I think it should.

  • C84

    Yang Hak-seon’s story is incredibly inspiring. It makes me wonder how many other athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds and somehow overcome what they didn’t have (money, food, shelter) to become as successful as they did. Then there are the invisible athletes – the ones who are struggling, but never become truly successful in their sports, so their stories are unknown.

  • Random Person

    I’m interested in an article regarding Son Yeon-Jae now. From looking at pictures of her, I can understand why the media loves her so much – she fits the Korean standard of beauty and looks youthful and innocent. Kinda how women’s volleyball gets so much coverage for their physique while women’s basketball gets NO coverage at all despite winning gold for the third time in a row.
    Reading the netizen’s comments, they really dislike her fame for “nothing”

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