Ssireum matches come to a close after Chuseok holidays
Four ssireum champions were crowned at the Withus Pharmaceutical Chuseok Ssireum Competition at Goseong-gun National Sports Center in Goseong, South Gyeongsang over the Chuseok holidays.
Ssireum, a form of traditional Korean wrestling, has strong ties to Korean traditional holidays like Lunar New Year and Chuseok, and local tournaments are held across the country during the holiday season.
Ssireum is a game that takes place within a sand arena where two players try to push the opponent to the ground. Players can use their torso, hands, legs and a satpa, which is a fabric strap each player wears that wraps around the waist and one leg, to knock their opponent down. Ssireum was added to the national heritage list as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2017 and was recognized by Unesco in 2018, becoming Korea’s 20th intangible cultural heritage.
Ssireum traditionally took place during holidays or celebrations, with people cheering around the ring. A total of 248 athletes took part in the competition this year, the first time in two years that the event was held with an audience due to Covid-19.
Matches were played in a best-of-three format except for the final match, which was best-of-five. The tournament operates on a last-man-standing basis. Two contestants enter the ring until one forces the other’s upper body to touch the ground. That person is then eliminated and another challenger enters the ring. The last man standing when all other challengers are defeated is the winner. The winner is given the jangsa title and a golden bull trophy.
The first to be awarded the golden bull was Heo Sun-hang, who won the lightest Taebaek class for athletes under 80 kilograms on Friday, defeating Jang Hyun-jin. Heo took the lead in the first round with an inner leg interlocking technique, but Jang took the second round with a cross bar hook. Heo took the third round with another inner leg interlocking technique and again the fourth round with a snatch and hold technique.
“I suffered a ligament injury, and it was hard to even consider retirement during rehabilitation,” said Heo after winning the trophy.
“I am happiest when I do ssireum, and I didn’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t able to do ssireum again. I want to thank my coaches and my team for doing a great job.”
On Saturday, Lee Min-ho won the Geumgang weight class title for athletes under 90 kilograms, taking home a golden bull, for the first time in five years. Lee defeated Moon Hyung-seok in the finals after five rounds.
Lee took the first round with a leg technique called cross bar hooking then took the second round after Moon was given two warnings.
Moon started his comeback in the third round using a snatching technique to win the third round, then used an integrated technique called a front knee hit to win the fourth round.
With the score tied 2-2, the match was pushed to a fifth set. Lee took the final set with his main skill, the abdomen-to-abdomen technique.
“I feel like I am dreaming,” Lee said after the match. “I can’t believe it, even after taking a bunch of pictures and going on the podium.”
This is Lee’s second-ever Geumgang title, after winning his first in November of 2017.
“I really wanted to win, especially when I was tied at 2-2,” said Lee. “I was honestly shaken at 2-2, but my coaches told me that I had nothing to lose and that I should do my best. My coaches also always tell me that whatever happens at the Chuseok ssireum competition, win or lose, it should only last three days. So that’s what I am going to do. I am going to celebrate for just three days, then go back to trying hard to be a good player and to put on a good match. I want to thank ssireum fans for celebrating the sport and showing their support because it motivates us players very much.”
On Sunday, Choi Sung-hwan won the Halla weight class for athletes under 105 kilograms to mark his 10th Halla jangsa title.
Choi beat Oh Chang-rok in the final after a comeback on Sunday. Oh took the first round with one abdomen-to-abdomen technique, after which Choi leveled the score with a waist technique in the second round. Choi took the lead in the third round with a leg technique called inner leg interlocking, but Oh wasn’t one to go down easily, taking the fourth round with the same leg technique. In the fifth and final round, Choi took down his opponent with his main skill, abdomen-to-abdomen.
On Monday, Jang Seong-woo beat Choi Sung-min in the Baekdu weight class for athletes under 140 kilograms in four rounds.
The competition for the Baekdu jangsa title was close. Choi took the first round with an integrated technique called a front knee hit, but Jang leveled the score in the second round with an abdomen-to-abdomen. Jang came back in the third round with another abdomen-to-abdomen then won the match in the fourth round with a waist technique called snatch and hold.
“I didn’t win a single title this year, and I had a very difficult year,” Jang said after the match on Monday.
“I told myself that I had nothing to lose. I have lost to Choi twice in the finals before, and I tried very hard to not make the same past mistakes today.
The Withus Pharmaceutical Chuseok Ssireum Competition ran from Sept. 7 to Sept. 12. The next ssireum match will be held at Ansan and will run from Oct. 14 to Oct. 19.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]