On January 31 in Heongseong, South Korea, Min Jae Yoo ’12 raised the Olympic torch on day 92 of the 2018 Winter Olympics torch relay to represent his native country and show support for the Korean athletes competing at the Olympics.
From learning how to carry the torch to hearing the cheers of the local community, the whole experience was very exciting, according to Yoo.
“You go there in the morning and get trained for an hour. You basically learn about how to carry the torch the right way, how to properly receive and deliver the torch to the next person or from the previous person, and after that [approximately] one hour training, you wait a little more, and they take you on a bus, a shuttle, which basically drops you off at the particular spot that you will be starting your relay,” said Yoo, in an interview with The Phillipian.
“The whole process took about three to four hours, and it was very exciting. The town was a relatively small town in Korea, not as big of a city as Seoul, and all the townspeople came out and cheered and took photos with us. The whole crowd was very enthusiastic, so it was a very exciting experience,” he continued.
In addition to bearing the torch, Yoo, along with two of his teammates on the Korean National Lacrosse Team, had the opportunity to advocate for lacrosse in Korea in a short promotion that was broadcasted with the streaming of the torch relay.
Yoo said, “The fact that we were able to promote lacrosse during the run was also exciting because we do need a higher level of awareness of lacrosse in Korea to get the support that we need. Unlike in the U.S. or Canada, lacrosse still needs a lot of growth in Asia and other countries as well.”
“The organizing committee for the Olympics wanted to have [less-popular Olympic sports] for the torch relay to raise awareness for the lack of support of sports. Lacrosse being one of them, I got to support Korea Lacrosse with my teammates, and that’s how I came to be carrying the torch,” he continued.
Yoo has been a member of the national team since 2013, and he is now involved with the Korean Lacrosse Association, which he also represented at the relay. Since bringing lacrosse back to Korea 20 years ago, the association is working to establish more teams in Korea to increase competition and raise awareness.
“Our goal [for the Korean Lacrosse Association] is to grow the program by making more teams — high school teams and college teams — to grow the league. The more teams there are, the stronger the league will be, as well as the better the players will be with a larger pool, as well as a higher awareness overall. Lacrosse, I think, worldwide speaking, it is a fast-growing sport, but it still needs a lot of support,” said Yoo.
Yoo is also taking part in advancements with the national team, which aims to have more players located in Korea. Currently, about half of the team is located overseas in schools or working in the United States and Canada, while the other half taught themselves lacrosse in Korea. Yoo, along with the association, is working to improve the environment so that the Korean team can play more frequently together and become more competitive.
With the national team, Yoo competes at two major tournaments: the Asian Pacific Lacrosse Championship, which occurs biannually, and the FIL World Championship, which happens every four years and will take place this summer in Israel. Nearly 50 teams are expected to attend the World Championship this year, including the U.S. and Canadian National Teams. The event will host some of the biggest names in men’s lacrosse, according to Yoo. The Korean team hopes to make the top 20 at the tournament, which will help them to promote lacrosse at home.
Yoo said, “We hope that [this tournament] will be a moment to turn around the awareness speaking specifically about Korea Lacrosse. We are trying everything that we can in terms of marketing [and] advertising through friends and family to basically teach people about lacrosse through this world lacrosse championship.”
Recently, the team has been using social media to spread the word outside of the existing lacrosse community in Korea. “Now that there is so much social media going around, we are trying to maximize promoting lacrosse overall through Instagram and Facebook. We have done this already this past summer at the Asian Pacific Championship because it basically gives a lot of exposure to non-lacrosse players, so we will do that again,” said Yoo.
Yoo first became involved in lacrosse himself while he was attending the Rectory School, a junior boarding school in Pomfret, Conn. Yoo was born in Korea and came to the U.S. in sixth grade, then picked up lacrosse in seventh grade.
Yoo said, “You know how boarding schools make you play a sport every year? For me, it was baseball in sixth grade, until I found out I didn’t really like baseball. I decided to try a new sport, which happened to be lacrosse… I picked up lacrosse and played the junior-varsity level and the varsity level.”
When he entered Andover as a Junior, Yoo played on the JV team. Unfortunately, he injured his shoulder in wrestling and was unable to play for the varsity team by his Senior year. However, Yoo allowed this setback to motivate him to improve as a player. After graduating from Andover, Yoo joined the Korean National Team as a long-stick midfielder, then walked on to the varsity team at the University of Pennsylvania.
“For about a year and a half, I focused all of my energy into rehabbing so that I could get my shoulder back. The captain of the Korean national team, who played club lacrosse at UPenn, basically recruited me to the national team, and that sort of sparked my interest to try out for the Division I lacrosse program. I was lucky enough to make the team. Thanks to the coach and my teammates, I grew as a lacrosse player a lot through those two years by simply being a part of a division one program,” said Yoo.
Since he graduated from Andover, Yoo has pushed himself as an athlete to become a competitor on the national level. Now, he aims to inspire others in his community to find the same passion by advocating for lacrosse in Korea.