By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- It will take nothing short of a miracle for South Korea to defeat powerhouse Canada in men's hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. After all, South Korea will be making its first Olympic appearance by virtue of being the host, while Canada has won the past two Olympic titles, led by superstars from the National Hockey League (NHL).
These two nations clash in the group stage at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangwon Province, lying east of PyeongChang. And once the puck drops, a miracle will be on the mind of Martin Hyun, a Korean-German former hockey player now working as deputy sport manager for hockey and sledge hockey for the 2018 Winter Olympics organizing committee.
"There was the 'Miracle on the Han River,'" Hyun told Yonhap News Agency last Friday, referring to South Korea's improbable rise from the ruins of the Korean War to achieve economic development.
"Maybe there will be a 'Miracle on Ice' in Gangneung. We'll see," Hyun added with a smile. "Korea will be the underdog, of course, playing against Canada. But the Korean players have nothing to lose."
Hyun borrowed the term from the United States' iconic victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The 4-3 win by the American amateur and collegiate players has been dubbed the "Miracle on Ice," and last month, it topped Sports Illustrated's list of 100 Greatest Moments in Sports History.
Incidentally, Hyun, who attended Northwood School in Lake Placid, has played in the same Herb Brooks Arena where the U.S.-Soviet game took place.
"Personally, I'd like to see the Korean players have fun," Hyun said. "It will be a wonderful experience that they'll never forget in their lifetime. On a good day, in hockey, everything is possible. On a bad day for Canada, you never know. Hockey is unbelievable. Two seconds can change everything."
Hyun, 36, may take a moment or two to daydream about the ultimate "David vs. Goliath" hockey battle in two years' time. Usually, he keeps himself busy trying to make sure Gangneung will be ready to stage the men's hockey tournament during the Olympics.
"My role is to plan and organize the sport part of the event," Hyun said. "We're trying to have the best hockey venue that is possible in Korea. We have to work closely with relevant stakeholders, including the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIH). We have to make sure their regulations are met."
Among other things, Hyun has to prepare a list of equipment necessary for the tournament and ensure the video goal judge system will be functioning properly.
Hyun joined the organizing committee in January last year. He said it is "an honor and a privilege" to be working for the organization and he see himself as a representative for millions of second-generation Koreans living overseas.
Hyun is a well-traveled man: born and raised in Germany, he attended school in the United States -- "an enlightening experience," he says -- as well as in Britain and Belgium.
Now working in the land of his parents' birth, Hyun acknowledged that he is "in between two worlds" but he has embraced challenges that have come his way.
"At the end of the day, everyone knows the mission; it's to deliver the successful Olympic Games," he said. "Foreigners coming to the organizing committee have to understand and trust in the Korean way of handling things. There are maybe ethnocentric views and sometimes, you think your culture is the best. But Korea has different ways of going about things and one thing we need is faith and trust."
Given his background and upbringing in hockey, Hyun is well-suited to tackle these obstacles. As the only player of Korean descent on the German junior national teams -- at the under-16 and under-20 levels -- Hyun said racial slurs directed at him on and off the ice "were very common."
Even though he eventually "became deaf" to them, Hyun still at times lost his temper when his opponents taunted him. Hyun recalled that he once received a game misconduct penalty for getting into a fight and got a five-game suspension.
Hyun eventually reached the top-tier German league, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) in the German hockey hotbed of Krefeld. Yet when he first started playing the sport as a five-year-old, Hyun's father, who bought him his first pair of skates, didn't envision professional hockey.
"He just wanted to get me off the streets," Hyun recalled. "I grew up in a multicultural, diverse environment. He was afraid I would go the wrong way if I made wrong friends. In a team sport, he wanted me to learn how to discipline myself and how to set goals and go for those goals."
Hyun's parents also stressed the importance of education. In middle school, Hyun said he had to wake up at 6 a.m. and get school work done before he could train for sports.
And after his playing career was done, Hyun has pursued further studies, earning a Master's degree in international relations from the University of Kent at Canterbury, and later defending his Ph.D. thesis on Korean migration to Germany at the University of Bonn.
After hockey, Hyun has been active off the ice, helping mentoring socially-disadvantaged children and aiding young cancer patients. In 2010, he founded a non-profit organization called "Hockey Is Diversity," promoting diversity and social change through sports.
He admitted he is "not the type" to become a coach, but if he were, he would put as much an emphasis on education as on the sport itself.
"As a youth coach, I would check players' grades from school, and if they're not doing well, I'd try to find a way to improve them," he said. "Players come and go, but they have to understand they're role models, regardless of where they play. They don't have to be big names to do good for the society, and I'd teach them how to conduct themselves on and off the ice."
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