‘Brilliant light’ Jeon Jeon-hee 13 years after naturalization…”I’m so grateful to Shin Yubin. It was my dream to reach the final once.”
- on May 27, 2023
“I still can’t believe it, I don’t know what’s going on, it’s like a dream, it’s been my dream to reach the (World Championships) final once. First of all, I want to thank my partner (Shin Yubin), I want to thank everyone who helped me play today.”
It’s been 13 years since she moved from China to South Korea to make it big in the national table tennis team. Her stuttering Korean is now somewhat fluent.
Jeon Jeon-hee (31, Mirae Asset Securities), who is not Korean, has been the ace of the Korean women’s national table tennis team for many years. After years of hard work, she finally shone brightly past the age of 30.
Jeon Jeon-hee (right) and Shin Yubin give a televised interview in the joint press area after their quarterfinal match. Korea Table Tennis Association
The women’s doubles quarterfinal match at the 2023 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Championships continues at the Durban International Convention Center (DICC) in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday (local time).
Jeon Ji-hee teamed up with fellow Korean ‘table tennis phenom’ Shin Yubin (19-Korean Air) to secure at least a silver medal with a 3-0 (11-7, 11-9, 11-6) victory over world No. 1s Sun Yingxia (23)-Wang Manyu (24) of China.
It was a “rebellion” by the world’s 12th-ranked pair that shocked the world’s most dominant Chinese table tennis team. Their joy was compounded by the fact that they beat an opponent who was trying to win a third consecutive world title.
Jeon Jeon-hee (left) and Shin Yubin in their quarterfinal match. Korea Table Tennis Association
Jeon was born in Langfang, Hebei, China, where she represented China’s youth national team. For him, it was a long time coming, as he had been waiting for a new start as a table tennis player since he came to Korea in 2011. She has faced many setbacks and disappointments along the way. But he never gave up and persevered through the years.
Kim Hyung-seok, the head coach of the Seoul Metropolitan Government (now Hwaseong City Hall) who brought Ji-hee to Korea in 2008, stayed up late to watch the quarterfinals and told Sports Seoul, “She hit really well. It was a great achievement after 13 years of naturalization,” he said.
“Yoo Bin also played table tennis, so I think the chemistry between them was good. It was easier to win than I thought. She completely dominated Sun Yingxia and Wang Manyu.”
Jeon Jeon-hee (left) and coach Kim Hyung-seok, who naturalized her in South Korea and turned her into an ace for the women’s national team. Courtesy | Coach Kim Hyung-seok
Kim Hyung-seok became the first head coach of the POSCO Energy (now POSCO International) Women’s Table Tennis Team when it was founded in March 2011, and he began using Jeon Jeon-hee as an ace by naturalizing her. To raise Jeon’s ranking points and make her a national team member, Kim traveled with her to Brazil and other places around the world to participate in open tournaments. “I think we traveled more than five times around the world,” he recalled.
Despite her efforts, Jeon failed to win gold or silver medals at the Asian Games and World Championships, especially in individual events. At the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, she won a bronze medal in mixed doubles with Kim Min-seok. She did not medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
At the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games스포츠토토, she won a bronze medal in the women’s singles. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed by a year, she finished with a bronze medal. At the Houston 2021 World Championships (Individual), she teamed up with Shin Yubin to compete in the women’s doubles, but her dreams of an individual Olympic medal were dashed when Shin withdrew due to injury. In the women’s singles, she was eliminated in the round of 32.
It seemed like Jeon’s career was slowly coming to an end. However, when her contract with POSCO International expired at the end of last year, she switched to Mirae Asset Securities to try to rebuild her career, and she soared to new heights as she teamed up with Shin Yoo-bin under the Taekwondo flag, and their fantastic chemistry put them in position to win a gold medal at the World Championships.
Jeon Jeon-hee (front) and Shin Yubin cheer. International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF)
Chen Meng (left) and Wang Yidi of China. WTT (World Table Tennis)
“I have Yubin next to me, so I’m not afraid to trust my partner and have fun,” said Jeon before the final against the world No. 7 pair of China’s Chen Meng (29) and Wang Yidi (26). The match is scheduled for 1:30 a.m. KST on Aug. 28.
After reaching the final, he said, “I’ve never been to a stage like this in my life, a final (before)…. I hope that I, Yoo Bin, and all of us will have fun in table tennis and in life without any regrets.”
It will be interesting to see if Jeon Jeon-hee can upset the players from the country of her birth to win her first ever gold medal at the World Championships.