Attending the 2013 IJF Judo Grand Prix in Jeju, South Korea
Jeju is one of South Korea’s prized possessions. The volcanic island is home to many UNESCO heritage sites and is aptly called the “Hawaii of Korea”. Being less than an hour flight from Gimhae International Airport in Busan, I knew I would eventually visit the island.
When I found out that the final leg of the IJF Grand Prix series was being held in Jeju, I knew it was something I couldn’t possibly pass up. Luckily, exams at my elementary school were happening at the same time as the tournament and I was able to reallocate some paid leave days.
So I was off.
This time of year (December) is clearly not the optimal time to see Jeju. Being a volcanic island, the true beauty of it is to be seen during the Spring and Summer months. Nonetheless, it’s beautiful and interesting any time of the year. Also, because it is an island, the temperature is a bit more tolerable than inland in Busan. Even Busan is a bit warmer than other areas of Korea as it’s both located on the water and slightly south of most other cities, so needless to say it really wasn’t that bad out on the island.
Once I arrived at the Jeju Halla Sports Complex I could sense the electricity of it all. I first walked into the warm-up area which was in a separate building and seeing all the different countries’ teams cemented in my mind that I was THERE! But the real effect didn’t hit until I entered the main arena and saw the magnificence of the event in full color. All the advertisement and competitor entrance LCDs were exactly as we see in the highlight videos on either YouTube or CD. I can’t say it any other way than – it was really cool.
Not as cool as seeing some of the all-time great judo players walking around. I brushed shoulders with Jeon Ki-Young, shook hands with Lee Won-Hee, saw Song Dae-Nam (London gold medalist), 2-time World Champion and London Olympic Champion, Kim Jae-Bum and many more. I also saw Keiji Suzuki as head coach of the Japanese squad that day. But MOST importantly, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with former World Champion, Neil Adams. He is one of the most critical figures in sensationalizing judo in the West with his exciting and colorful commentary.
Because it was a Grand Prix, most of the top countries were there. This included Russia, Romania, Japan, Mongolia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, and many more. There were 30 countries present at this competition. Two countries not present that I really would’ve like to have seen are France and Brazil. Still, it was world-class talent and up and comers all throughout.
This event demonstrated the amount of detail, organization, and preparation that goes into an IJF event. It was epic by any standard. Going away from it the only regret I have is that I forgot to grab one of the posters off the walls. Doh!
Looks like I’ll have to take one from another event. The Asian Games will be held in Incheon in 2014…
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