By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Greco-Roman wrestler Ryu Han-su has come a long way to develop into a gold medal contender at next month's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the long journey has made the 28-year-old grateful and appreciative of the opportunity.
Even if he has to endure grueling training every day, that is.
"I was a training partner (for Olympic wrestlers) eight or nine years ago," Ryu said during the open practice session at the National Training Center Monday. "Now that I'll be competing myself, it feels like a dream. I am thankful each and every day to be working out here. I am even grateful to be going through such tough training."
Though all athletes are obviously training hard for the Olympics, Ryu and other wrestlers say no sport can beat their regimen in terms of intensity. The wrestlers are up by 6 a.m. to do some running for about an hour and a half, and then they hit the weight room at 10 a.m. for a two-hour session. After lunch, it's two-hour technical training on the mats. Then the wrestlers train on their own individually from around 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Though he takes naps in between sessions, Ryu said he's so beat at night that he falls asleep almost literally the moment his head hits the pillow.
"I am so proud to be going through such rigorous training," Ryu said with a smile. "It's obviously hard, but I can get through it because I know it will get me closer to the Olympic gold."
South Korean Greco-Roman wrestler Ryu Han-su lifts a tire during the open practice session at the National Training Center in Seoul on July 18, 2016. (Yonhap)
Ryu will be competing in the 66kg division, and an Olympic gold is the only missing puzzle piece for him. He won the world championship in 2013, followed by the Asian Games gold medal in 2014, and the Asian championship in 2015. He finished second to Frank Stabler of Germany at last year's world championships.
Ryu said he won't get too ahead of himself and get caught up in the Olympic hype, saying, "I only think about taking down the opponent on the mat. The rest will take care of itself."
He may once again be on a collision course with Stabler in Rio. Ryu said he has studied videos of the German rival, saying Stabler has "a lot of power and great techniques."
"I keep telling myself, 'I could've beaten him if I'd done this or that,'" Ryu said. "I have to keep reminding myself of what I've practiced, and make sure I execute them well in actual matches."
Ryu said the best offense is usually the best defense. He said he won't be too aggressive and take foolish risks, and that he'd rather err on the side of caution.
"If I just keep going after my opponents, I will expose myself to more danger," he said. "I tend to hold my ground before mounting an attack."
Ryu has been growing facial hair out of superstition -- a la National Hockey League players during playoffs -- but he'll be more than willing to shave it all off if he wins the gold medal.
South Korean Greco-Roman wrestler Ryu Han-su speaks to the press during the pre-Olympic national team news conference at the National Training Center in Seoul on July 18, 2016. (Yonhap)
"I think it'll be almost a mind-numbing experience to be standing on the Olympic mat," Ryu said. "The gym will be packed and the lights will be so bright. I just have to block that all out and focus on executing my plans."
In the past, Ryu was blocked in the 66kg class by Kim Hyeon-woo, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in that division. Kim has since moved up a class to 75kg, and it has allowed Ryu to flourish.
Ryu said he and Kim are constantly talking to each other about their performances, and have developed a strong connection away from the gym, too.
And they have been somewhat of a good luck charm to each other, having won titles together at the same international events. They were both the 2013 world champions, 2014 Asian Games gold medalists, and 2015 Asian champions.
"We are roommates when we go overseas, and we've won so often together," Ryu said. "It feels great to be going to the Olympics with Hyeon-woo."