By Park Sojung
INCHEON, Oct. 2 (Yonhap) -- It had been eight long years for South Korean wrestling. The host nation of this year's Asian Games appeared to have lost its touch in the sport that had often catapulted it toward the top of the medal tables.
South Korea had produced at least five gold medalists in wrestling at every Asian Games for two decades starting in 1986. But the flow of medals came to a screeching halt in 2006 and a dark age seemed to loom large for the once-powerful wrestling nation.
But no longer. Kim Hyeon-woo, who ended his country's eight-year wait for an Asian Games title on Wednesday, brought sexy back to wrestling.
With one Olympic gold, one world title, three Asian championships and now an Asian Games gold medal under his belt, the 25-year-old completed the rare combination of four major titles known as the Asian "grand slam."
South Korean wrestler Kim Hyeon-woo cries in celebration of his gold medal at the men's 75kg Greco-Roman at the Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Oct. 1, 2014. (Yonhap file photo)
Over the past few years, Kim has become synonymous with South Korean wrestling, and looking back on his career is tantamount to tracing the nation's recent history in the sport.
Though Kim, like his compatriots, missed out on titles at the 2010 Asian Games, his two-year winning streak got under way in London, where he captured an Olympic gold in the men's 66㎏ Greco-Roman to end his nation's eight-year medal drought in wrestling.
Kim went on to take last year's world and Asian championships by storm. And this year, he added another golden trinket to his collection in Incheon to join the ranks of Park Jang-soon and Sim Kwon-ho, the two other grand slammers in the nation's history.
At Wednesday's finals, Kim overpowered Japan's Takehiro Kanakubo, the same opponent he'd beaten at last year's world championships, 4-0 to take his maiden Asiad gold.
But the wrestling legend says he's just getting started. Minutes after winning his gold at the largest sports event on the continent, the young champion says he wants another taste of an Olympic gold medal.
"I know the Asian Games is just coming to an end, but I want to stay humble and try harder for the Rio Olympics (in 2016)," Kim told reporters after the match on Wednesday. "I'm still young enough to achieve much more."
Kim emphasized his key to success had not been sheer talent but rather hard-core training that kept him awake at night.
"Like the (Korean) saying 'if you can't avoid it, enjoy it,' I tried to enjoy my training as much as I could," he said. "I even developed insomnia from it, so hopefully I can catch up on sleep for a good full week."
Though he clearly had his head in the clouds, the "New Legend," as local fans like to call him, said he still had his feet on the ground.
"I know one day I'll no longer be the No. 1 wrestler in the country," he said. "That's why I don't strive to be the best wrestler but a wrestler who tries the hardest."