CHIBA, Japan, July 30 (Yonhap) — With one last bout left, South Korea was tied with China at 34-34 in the bronze medal match of the men’s epee fencing team event Friday at the Tokyo Olympics.
South Korea had just the right man coming up next: the 2016 individual gold medalist Park Sang-young.
And Park didn’t disappoint, scoring the team’s final 11 points for a 45-42 win that gave South Korea its first Olympic medal in the men’s epee team event.
Park became an overnight sensation at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. In the final, Park rallied from a 14-10 deficit, one point away from defeat, to beat Geza Imre of Hungary 15-14 in the memorable gold medal showdown.
He couldn’t defend that title here but got more than just a consolation prize with the team bronze.
“My teammates said they would try to make it at least a tie going into our last bout, but that just put so much pressure on me,” Park said. “If I made mistakes, the match would be over. I got distracted and scared.”
But Park is accustomed to dealing with that type of weight. He said the gold medal in Rio eventually became a burden because of the pressure that he felt, trying to prove he didn’t just catch lightning in a bottle.
“It was an honor to win that gold, but as time went by, the pressure grew heavier and heavier,” Park said. “It was especially tough when I was alone. I had a couple of surgeries after the Olympics and I didn’t do well at competitions. When the Olympics got pushed back by a year, I was stressed out because of so much uncertainty.”
Park recalled many sleepless nights filled with tears.
“In Rio, I was like a kid in the playground,” he said. “This time, I felt like I was getting ready to fight in a war.”
Park is the youngest member of the team at 25 but also its best fencer. With the team’s back against the wall, Park had his experience from 2016 to fall back on.
“I tried to keep things simple,” he said. “I feel so fortunate to win this bronze medal.”