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Ex-athletes enter new arena at upcoming elections

All News 10:33 January 29, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- Former star athletes will enter a whole different arena in the spring, when they will be vying for parliamentary seats in the general elections.

Former ssireum (traditional wrestling) national champion Lee Man-gi will take his third crack at the general elections. The 2004 Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Moon Dae-sung will be running for his second term. Lee Elisa, former table tennis world champion and veteran sports administrator, is also going for her second term.

Park Chan-ho, the first South Korean to play in Major League Baseball, and Jang Mi-ran, the 2008 Olympic weightlifting gold medalist, are also rumored to be seeking entry into politics, though they've denied such speculations.

Former athletes have had mixed success in politics, but parties still reach out to them for an infusion of new blood, hoping their competitive streak would translate well in politics.

Lee Man-gi was ssireum's biggest icon in the 1980s, winning 10 major titles to lead the heyday of the sport. In retirement, Lee, 52, has remained visible in the public eye through TV appearances and now teaches sports and leisure studies at a local university.

Lee completed his preliminary registration last month for the ruling Saenuri Party. He failed to get a nomination in the 2000 general elections. Four years later, he came up short in a race for a seat in Masan, South Gyeongsang Province.

In 2014, Lee lost the mayoral election for Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province.

Moon Dae-sung, one of two South Korean members on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is currently representing a district in Busan for Saenuri, but will be running for a seat in Incheon, his hometown, after an about-face.

Last month, Moon, 39, announced he wouldn't run in the elections, saying he was fed up with politics -- a world full of liars, cowards and self-serving individuals, he said -- and he wanted to work in sports again.

Then just last Thursday, Moon said he will be chasing his second term, on a recommendation by the Saenuri leader Kim Moo-sung.

Moon was elected in 2012 running for Saenuri but was soon forced to leave the party while facing plagiarism charges over his Ph.D. thesis. Moon rejoined the ruling party in February 2014.

Lee Elisa, 61, has been serving as a proportional representative since 2012, and will be competing for a seat in Daejeon, where she attended grade school.

The 1973 world table tennis champion who also captured several international titles, Lee carved out a strong career as a coach and an administrator. She was the national women's table tennis head coach at the 1988 and 2004 Summer Olympics and was the head of the National Training Center, the top training facility for Olympic athletes, from 2005 to 2008, the first female to serve in the role.

In the National Assembly, Lee has been working to improve the plight of retired athletes and develop physical education among youth.

Elsewhere, former basketball player Kim Young-joo will be seeking her third term for the opposition Minjoo Party. Former baseball player Kim Yoo-dong, the MVP of the inaugural Korean Series -- the South Korean version of the World Series -- in 1982, will be taking his sixth swing at a parliamentary seat.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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