Don’t Call Us Ajumma
By Sunny Lee
Korea Times Correspondent
BEIJING ― The handball game was hot. Korean fans for the Korean women's handball team cheered for them at the top of their lungs: "Go Ajumas!" or literally "Go housewives!"
It was done with good intentions, referring to the age of many of the players who are in their 30's but not a prime age for such an intense sport. It was meant to highlight the unswerving spirit of these old athletes.
But the heroic athletes didn't actually like it. ``I was personally depressed because of that,'' Oh Young-ran, a star player of the game, said Sunday at the Korea House press center in Beijing.
``We are ajumas. You're right. But it sounded to us that we were too old for the game, not physically fit for the job,'' she said.
The women's handball team overpowered Hungary 33-28 to claim the bronze in the Beijing Summer Olympics Saturday. The Korean women's team won gold medals in 1988 and 1992, and came in second in the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Athens.
``We did our best. We don't feel any regret'' the coach said.
``You always have this regret of `It would have been much better if we won the gold.' We don't. We did our best'' said Oh Young-ran.
Oh Sung-wook added,``We feel that the bronze we won is worth a gold,'' hinting at the difficulty they went through, including the controversy surrounding a referees judgment.
For Oh Sung-wook, the game was special in another sense. ``When I came back to my room last night, it occurred to me that it was my last game before retirement. It created some complex feelings within me.''
She is an ``ajuma'' too. ``My son is 12 years old. He knows why I came to Beijing. I came here to do an important job,'' she said, adding ``I regret that I couldn't spend enough time with my son. Now, I am going back to my family.''
That's the sentiment, also shared by Oh Young-ran, who had her first child after she turned 30. ``My daughter is too young to understand what I am doing here. But she will understand when she grows up,'' she said.
As big sisters of the Korea national handball team, they now lay hope on the shoulders of emerging athletes who are much younger. And this is what they want to tell them. ``I think the philosophy is simple: Do your best. I also hope that they carry on our legacy,'' Oh Young-ran said.
With the mission accomplished, from now on, they are no longer ajumas. They are proud mothers, whose appearance shined at the Beijing Olympics.