Kim Yeon-koung back in South Korea: What I have learned abroad

Outside hitter has re-signed for her first club with the Olympic Games looming with eye on "last dream"

Kim Yeon-koung's glittering career in volleyball isn't quite complete.

The South Koreapln outside hitter has rejoined her first club – the Pink Spiders in Incheon – after 11 years playing abroad, with an eye on her ultimate goal.

"I wanted to be in the best shape possible for the Olympics next year and realise my last remaining dream," she told reporters as she was re-introduced by the Pink Spiders.

"The one thing I want to accomplish more than anything else is to win an Olympic medal."

Best Korean player

The 32-year-old is widely considered the best South Korean volleyball player ever, and has drawn praise from the world's top coaches.

Her career CV includes three Korean V-League titles (she was also named regular season and finals Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in her debut season) from her first spell with the Pink Spiders.

She left South Korea to play abroad in 2009, and has also won one Japanese V.Premier League championship and two Turkish league trophies.

Kim also won the European Champions League in 2012 with Fenerbahce.

Despite her lengthy list of achievements at club level, South Korea have struggled internationally. Kim's best moment in a national team jersey came at London 2012 with a fourth place finish, agonisingly missing out on a much-sought-after medal.

Kim led all players in scoring in the tournament, tallying 207 points and winning the MVP accolade from the FIVB – just the third player to not win a medal and be named Olympic tournament MVP.

She also took part in a snow volleyball exhibition event hosted by the FIVB on the sidelines of the PyeongChang 2018 Games in an effort to raise the profile of that discipline.

Kim Yeon-Koung of South Korea returns the ball during an event promoting snow volleyball hosted by the FIVB on the sidelines of PyeongChang 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Kim Yeon-Koung of South Korea returns the ball during an event promoting snow volleyball hosted by the FIVB on the sidelines of PyeongChang 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)Kim Yeon-Koung of South Korea returns the ball during an event promoting snow volleyball hosted by the FIVB on the sidelines of PyeongChang 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

Return home

South Korea confirmed their Olympic spot for Tokyo 2020 with a win at the Asian qualifying tournament in January. That convinced Kim, a free agent after her contract with Eczacibasi in Turkey expired, to return home.

"I was thinking about how I could keep playing and maintain my form before the Olympics, and I decided coming back to South Korea would be the best way to do it," the outside hitter said.

Kim had been the only South Korean player playing overseas before her return to the Pink Spiders, a role she took seriously.

"As it is difficult for other Korean national team members to acquire information on players from foreign countries, my role as the leader of the team is to deliver as much information as possible to the other Korean team members," she told the FIVB last year.

Family ties

As a child, Kim took up the sport thanks to her siblings.

Her eldest sister was the first in the family to start playing volleyball, and the young Kim tagged along.

"I followed her to the gym every day and helped the team gather balls during practice," she said to FIVB.

"Those experiences were the source of my interest in volleyball and that eventually paved the way for me to become a professional player."

Her idols? "One was Dante Amaral of Brazil and the other was Lyubov Sokolova of Russia.

"They were tall outside hitters who were excellent at both hitting and receiving. After seeing them play, I wanted to become an all-around player like them."

Academy

Away from the court, Kim is already looking to the future.

She recently told Xinhua that she hopes to follow in the footsteps of one of China's greats, Lang Ping, who went from Olympic champion player to Olympic champion coach.

"After volleyball, maybe I want to be a coach, and maybe one day I can be like Lang Ping in China," she said.

To that end, she opened a youth sports academy in May 2018.

"Many children of different ages attend the academy and participate in volleyball, football, basketball and other sports activities," she explained. "I wanted to give back all the goodness that volleyball has given me."

So what exactly has her long career at the top level – 15 years, including 11 outside South Korea – given her?

"The most important thing I've learned over the years is professionalism.

"I think I grew so much as a volleyball player over those 11 years (abroad)."

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