Winning an Olympic medal is a massive achievement for obvious reasons. For some, it provides the assurance that their government will continue to financially support their success. This worry was absolute child’s play compared to what two South Korean golfers face.
In South Korea, all able-bodied men aged 18-35 are required to do two years in the South Korean military with one important exception, Olympic medalists are exempt.
This requirement – and the absence of an immediate Olympics – forced Bae Sang-Moo to leave the PGA Tour and return to his home company last year. Bae, aged 29, had been using a permit to compete in America but a court ruled that he doesn’t qualify for special consideration. Korea’s Military Manpower Association – ooooooh pardon – can allow athletes to avoid conscription, but Bae didn’t make the cut.
This was a harsh interruption to Bae’s promising career, the two-time PGA TOUR winner was forced to put his golf on hold for two years. Can you imagine going from $2 million in prize money one year, to a measly $130-a-month the next?
Byeong Hun An and Jeunghun Wang had an opportunity in Rio to avoid military service once and for all. Byeong in particular, who has climbed to 32nd in the world, would lose momentum if he went back to South Korea at such a critical time in his career. Unfortunately he finished 11th, which leaves him with a worrying weight to find out if he can somehow avoid conscription.
A poor showing at the Olympics could mean the 24-year-old will have to join 690,000 active personnel in South Korea. Hopefully, Byeong Hun An can take solace in the sense of duty that this entails, either way, this has to be hard news to take.