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Judoka dubbed ‘Korean Lightning’ wants to strike gold in Paris

South Korean judoka Lee Joon-hwan is so quick and aggressive that, in 2022, the International Judo Federation (IJF) dubbed him "The Korean Lightning." Lee earned that moniker after winning an IJF Grand Slam title in the men's -81 kilograms in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he took down then world No. 1 and national hero Tato Grigalashvili in the final. Earlier that same year, Lee had defeated reigning Olympic gold medalist, Takanori Nagase of Japan, en route to a Grand Slam title in Ulaanbaatar. Lee, still just 21, said Thursday he couldn't care less about his moniker, flattered as he may be. "I just want to perform my ideal judo," Lee told reporters during an open training session at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, some 85 kilometers southeast of Seoul. "I have different techniques and I believe I should be able to attack from both sides for ippon wins." Aside from those international victories, it hasn't always been smooth sailing for Lee, who has come up shy of gold medals at recent editions of the Asian Games and world championships. The silver medal from last year's Asian Games and bronze medals from the past two world championships are what drive Lee more than anything. "I am really motivated now. I will take this Olympics like it's a life-and-death situation for me," Lee said. I am obsessed with judo now. I am not thinking about anything else. I will stand on the top of the podium in Paris and sing our national anthem." Lee, world No. 3, will likely have to get past Grigalashvili, now ranked second in the world, to realize his Olympic dreams. At the world championships last month, Grigalashvili got the better of Lee in the semifinals and ended up taking home his third straight world title. "I thought I would have an edge, but I think I might have been in too much of a rush," Lee recalled. "I have to stay a bit more composed and be smarter in managing my matches. I feel like I've already reached a pretty high level in terms of strength and fitness." Lee said he has his sights set on a bigg er goal than an Olympic medal. In a profile of Olympic-bound athletes compiled by the Korea Judo Association, Lee listed "becoming rich" as his life goal. "If I become wealthy, I can make my parents happy and take care of my people," Lee said. "If I bring home an Olympic gold medal, I will put it around my parents' necks and throw a big party for our family." Source: Yonhap News Agency

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