SEOUL, Reuter: The Athletics skill of young South Korean distance runner Lim Chun Ae has taken her from a humble shack and made her a role model for the poor.

Lim, 19, ran with the Olympic torch on the final stretch of its journey from Athens during the opening ceremony of the Seoul games.

She will be back in the Olympic stadium carrying South Korea’s main hopes for track success when she competes in the 3,000 meter heats,

One of four children brought up in poverty by her widowed mother, Lim has ‘become an example to South Koreans from similar backgrounds, particularly women.

‘She was recently at the center of a debate over training methods after her coach hit her on the ear because he thought she was slacking. Women’s groups protested over the incident.

But Pack Young Ok, Political Science Professor at Seoul’s Ehwa University, said many people took the stand that trainers should be tough with their charges.

“The Women’s Movement is just starting in South Korea. In our tradition woman is expected to be submissive and obedient,” she said, adding that even Lim’s status as a top athlete did not change such ingrained ideas.

“But she has become a role model for girls and poor people who identify with her and get hope from seeing her gain upward mobility through her own achievements,” she said.

Lim, whose mother worked as a waitress to support her family, overcame ailments caused by malnutrition to win three gold’s at the 1986 Asian games.

Victories in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000 metres brought her hero status and a government gift of 20,000 dollars, which she used to move the family out of the shack and into a two storey house.

“To understand why she is honoured so much in our country, you must realise that we are a country starting a rebuilding process from the bottom…fighting against the odds to overcome various obstacles,” Pack said. “Lim symbolises these qualities.”

Pack said some poor rural families still sent their daughters to work in factories to support male children through university.

“In Lim’s case, her achievements gave her a chance to be sponsored by the Government to study in the University.”

Pack believes Lim’s story has made women see sport as a way to escape poverty and the traditional restrictions of South Korean Society.

“In the end, she is a sort of Cinderella figure,” Peak said.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 30, 1988