By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- Earlier this month, Shin Jong-hun carried South Korean boxing on his shoulder.
At an Olympic qualification tournament in Vargas, Venezuela, Shin was the only South Korean boxer who had a chance to grab a ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games. But maybe the pressure was too heavy for the flyweight (under-49kg) boxer to bear.
Shin, the 2014 Incheon Asian Games gold medalist, failed to qualify for the Rio Games after losing to Leandro Blanc of Argentina by a 3-0 decision in a third-place bout on July 8. The tournament, organized by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the amateur boxing governing body, offered Olympic tickets to the top three boxers in every weight category, except heavyweight (under-91kg) and super heavyweight (over-91kg), from which only the winners earn an Olympic spot.
Shin's elimination also meant that South Korea will not have any boxers at the Olympics for the first time in 68 years. Since the 1948 London Games, South Korea has sent at least two boxers to every Olympics, except the 1980 Moscow Games, where the country joined the United States' boycott following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
"I feel sad that there are no South Korean boxers at the Olympics," Shin told Yonhap News Agency on Sunday. "I also feel apologetic to the country's boxing community that I couldn't meet their expectations."
Shin has already competed at the Olympics before. At the 2012 London Games, he was one of two South Korean boxers, but was eliminated from the round of 16. However, because he hasn't won an Olympic gold, the 27-year-old said he will stay amateur and compete in the Olympics again.
Shin also added that he will aim for an AIBA World Boxing Championships gold medal. He won bronze in 2009 and silver in 2011, but never topped the podium at the worlds.
"I want to retire after I compete at the next Olympics (in 2020 in Tokyo)," he said. "Honestly, I've achieved almost everything. I won a gold medal for South Korea and went to the Olympics. But I want to win the Olympic and the world championship gold medals."
Shin returned from Venezuela last Monday. He said he feels pain in almost every part of his body after the bouts in the South American nation. Due to physical stress, Shin also didn't compete in an exhibition bout ahead of the World Boxing Council (WBC) Silver flyweight title match in Seoul on Sunday.
"I'm tired, but I feel that I got the monkey off my back," he said.
In this photo provided by AK Promotion, South Korean boxer Shin Jong-hun (C) pose for a photo with new World Boxing Council (WBC) silver flyweight champion Muhammad Waseem (R) and his trainer Jeff Mayweather at a Seoul hotel on July 17, 2016. (Yonhap)
The tournament in Venezuela was only open to boxers from AIBA Pro Boxing (APB), the World Series of Boxing (WSB) and other professional organizations. It was the first time that the AIBA has allowed professional boxers to compete for places at the Summer Games. Shin and Ham Sang-myeong, the other South Korean, had their chances in Venezuela because they are contracted to the APB, the professional boxing league managed by the AIBA. Ham, who fights at bantamweight (under-56kg), was eliminated in the quarterfinals on July 5.
Other South Korean boxers had to grab their tickets to Brazil in two previous Olympic qualifying tournaments -- the Asian/Oceanian Olympic Qualification Event in Qian'an, China, in March, and the World Olympic Qualification Event in Baku, Azerbaijan, last month -- but none of them completed the task.
Shin, however, said he doesn't have any regrets. For the South Korean, going to Venezuela was already a miracle in itself.
He went through a bumpy road to compete at the Olympics. The boxer served an 18-month suspension by the AIBA after he boycotted an APB event in China for a domestic competition in 2014. Although his ban ended this April, Shin had no ground to compete at the Olympic qualification events in March and June because he had missed the national team selection trials.
Shin also didn't meet the criterion to enter the final Olympic qualification tournament in Venezuela, which required a record of at least two bouts in the APB.
Shin said he had sent e-mails to the AIBA numerous times over his status for the Olympic qualification, but received no answers. It wasn't until four days before the event that the AIBA granted Shin a special permission to compete in Venezuela.
"Honestly I didn't expect to compete (at the Olympic qualification tournament)," he said. "But when I heard that I can go, I cried. Why don't they just tell me from the first place that I can compete in Venezuela?"
But because of the abrupt decision, Shin had to quickly lose weight to pass the weigh-in. Shin said he lost 2.8kg on the day he was notified of the AIBA's decision and shed another kilogram before taking the flight to Venezuela the next day.
"I was on the plane for more than 20 hours and I almost starved to death," he said. "I doubted whether I could fight for three rounds of three minutes there."
At the tournament with seven light flyweight boxers, Shin beat Nazar Kurotchyn of Ukraine 3-0 in the first round, but lost to Joselito Velazquez Altamirano in the next bout, which forced him to fight Blanc for one last Olympic pass. Shin said he never imagined losing to Blanc.
"During the bout, I asked my cornerman and he told me I was winning, so I just stuck to my game," he said. "Just 10 seconds before the final round, I noticed that the Argentine boxer was backing off, but I decided not to track him down, because I knew I got more points."
But when the decision was announced, Shin said he was mad and couldn't accept the ruling. But at his hotel room later, Shin said he finally accepted the result and realized what he had been through.
"What can I do?," he said. "If I don't accept the defeat, I would have been in agony still to this day. Now, I feel thankful that I got the opportunity to compete and I also want to congratulate myself for going through all of that process."
Shin said what disappointed him was the attitude of the Boxing Association of Korea (BAK), which governs amateur boxing in the country. The two sides have been at odds over Shin's suspension from the AIBA, with Shin claiming the BAK actually sided with the AIBA. Shin and the BAK also went through a legal battle in the past related to his financial reward from the Asian Games gold medal.
"Whether (the BAK) likes me or not, I was representing the country at the time," Shin said. "When I came back from Venezuela, no one from the BAK contacted me. They could have at least told me 'you did a good job,' right?"
But Shin said all of his Olympic saga gave him hope, too. The boxer said he gained confidence through his experience in Venezuela. He now believes he can perform well if he is well prepared from the start.
"People say that when you are close to 30, you get rusty as a boxer," he said. "But I'm not feeling that. I think my stamina is still good and I will have a better reading of the game and have more experience to fight well."
Shin said his contract problem with the AIBA and relationship with the BAK have cast a cloud over his future, but he will work hard to achieve his goal of winning an Olympic gold in the next Summer Games.
"All of the things that I've been through in the past several months feel like a dream," he said. "I don't want to give up my dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. I just don't want to."
In this file photo, taken on Sept. 20, 2015, South Korean boxer Shin Jong-hun celebrates his victory at the National Sports Festival in Wonju, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)