South Korea have claimed their first ever medal in the football competition at the Olympic Games—clinching bronze with a 2-0 victory over Japan in the 2012 London Olympics.
However, even better than the prize of an Olympic medal was the free pass that it gave the footballers from mandatory military service.
If they hadn't beaten their Asian counterparts, they would have been subject to the same rules that every other person in South Korea is—before the age of 29, you must complete 21 months of national military service.
Now, with a medal around their necks, they receive an exemption because they have benefited their country on a national stage.
Striker Park Chu-young commented that:
I'm very happy with the bronze medal and everybody here will now get a new chance by being exempted from military service.
That's what I'm really pleased about because that was our aim at the start of the tournament...
Similar sentiments were echoed by Kim Bok-yung, who said that no longer having to oblige to the national service requirements:
Makes me as happy as winning the bronze medal. This is one of the happiest moments of my life.
It is a big problem for Korean players, but now I have avoided it. I will have no problem staying in Europe...
As Bok-yung hints at, the national service requirements are a huge hurdle for South Korean athletes, but in particular, footballers, as they try to establish their careers throughout the European domestic competitions. With that weight off their backs now, you get the sense that these bronze medalists could now go on to achieve some big things for their respective clubs.
When the final whistle blew against Japan, it was plain to see how delighted the Koreans were with the result—not with the bronze medal, but the perks that came with it.
The entire team jumped around in jubilation in the middle of the pitch, waving Korean flags and their shirts around in ecstasy, for they knew what they had achieved both for their nation and for their own personal lives.
They had won big at the 2012 London Olympics—potentially more than any other team in the competition—because regardless of what color their medal might have been, they knew that had something that nobody could take away.
And nobody could force them to do anything.
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