The summer of 2012 was sizzling hot, more than any typical summers—with the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Numerous unexpected turns took place during the 17 days of events, and among all excellent players, two sisters showed promise in synchronised swimming, which is practically an unknown sport in Korea.
Sisters Park Hyun-ha (Human Movement Studies, 1) and Park Hyun-sun (Yonsei University, 4) are the only national synchronised swimming team in Korea among less than 100 athletes nationwide. The sisters’ mother suggested starting the sport when they were 7 and 9 years old. They were selected for the national team in 2004 and 2003, respectively, and began swimming together since 2009. They are also the first sister players to compete internationally as a Korean national team.
The sisters advanced to the finals and was ranked 12th in the London 2012 Summer Olympics, fulfilling their ultimate goal. This historical achievement was made 12 years after the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics when Jang Yoon-kyeong (’03, Human Movement Studies), the sisters’ coach and the silver medalist in solo events at the Busan 2002 Asian Games got to the finals for the first time. Among their many other achievements, the sisters won bronze in the Guangzhou 2010 Asian Games and 6th place in the FINA (Federation Internationale De Natation) Synchronised Swimming World Cup 2010, when they made Korea’s best ranking results. To earn these outcomes, the sisters trained more than eight hours daily.
“We practiced five hours on average inside the water and spent two or more in weight training and practicing gestures outside the water, which are called ‘Land Drills’ at home,” Park Hyun-sun said.
The sisters get along well most of the times but occasionally, they face conflicts.
“We never fight because of discord or one’s mistake but rather argue over how to improve,” Park Hyun-sun said. “Our opinions are divided at times but we soon realize it is meaningless, so we just agree to disagree and do our best to keep our actions synchronised in the end.”
In synchronised swimming, various factors are evaluated, unlike sports that require one single best record. The height of jumping from the water and moving in unison are particularly important.
Additionally, leaving a strong impression to both the audience and judges is an important criterion.
“Looking beautiful is not the purpose,” the sisters said. “We put on heavy makeup that can match our music, costumes and the expressions we want to convey.”
The sisters’ mother makes most of the costumes they wear. Since there were no stores specializing in tailored costumes, their mother started making their costumes while considering the designs and images, which differ for every game: she has made more than 50 costumes since the sisters began competing. They likewise wore their mother’s handmade costumes at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
Park Hyun-ha entered Ewha in 2011 after a two-year hiatus from school due to her need to turn her focus from athletics to academics. This change of focus was caused when in 2005 selection for the national team caused conflicts between players. The strife resulted in universities’ cancellation of the entrance of synchronised swimmers as a student athlete, thus the sisters had to start and concentrate on their studies, not sports for college admission.
“It was a rough time, but I felt I shouldn’t disappoint the people who trusted me by staying depressed,” Park Hyun-ha said.
Before then, Ewha had had at least one or up to three talented synchronised swimmers every year, including Jang Yoon-kyeong and her former partner Kim Min-jeong (’04, Human Movement Studies) who together won bronze at the Busan 2002 Asian Games. As Ewha provided scholarships and support for synchronised swimmers, this worked as a strong motivation for Park Hyun-ha to set her sights on entering Ewha since her early years. Although enjoying her school life at Ewha, Park Hyun-ha noted that she has a wistful sense of what she might have experienced as a normal student.
“My sister and I had to take time off from school to participate in the games,” Park Hyun-ha said. “I have limited time to enjoy life as a normal undergraduate, but I believe synchronised swimming is worth losing those small moments of happiness.”
Finishing the London 2012 Summer Olympics, the sisters are preparing for the National Sports Festival scheduled for October as their farewell match.
“Since the London 2012 Summer Olympics was the first and the last for us, we enjoyed the games and did our best at the same time,” Park Hyun-sun said.
The sisters say they are happy to retire after accomplishing the two goals they had set when they first started synchronised swimming, which included earning at least the bronze medal at the Asian Games and making the finals at the Olympics.
“I feel honored to have had the chance to make it to the finals, followed by our coach Jang who couldn’t conceal her joy and cried,” Park Hyun-ha said. After retirement, the sisters are planning to launch their own swimming club to foster future swimmers and promote synchronised swimming while they continue attending school.
“Our dream is to continue doing what we want, what we can do well, which is synchronised swimming. We hope to be great teachers that help to produce talented players in the future,” the sisters said with confident smiles.