Tag Archives: Jin Yunseong

2019 World Silver MedalLIST Jin yunseong (KOR) interview

I had the chance to interview Jin Yunseong, a 24 year old weightlifter from South Korea who won the silver medal at 2019 IWF World Championships! He totaled 397kg with 181kg snatch and 216kg clean & jerk. He won the gold medal for the snatch portion and came in 4th place for the clean & jerk. He used to compete as a 105kg class lifter in the old weight class category, and has snatched up to 180kg at the 2017 World Championships in Anaheim.

*Original interview was recorded in Korean, and I translated it into English.

First of all, I wanted to congratulate you for winning the Gold Medal for the snatch and Silver medal for the total at the 2019 IWF World Championships! You were truly phenomenal and everyone who watched the 102kg session was impressed by your performance.

Thank you very much.

All lifts of Jin Yunseong from 2019 IWF World Championships

I wanted to talk a little bit about your performance at the 2019 IWF World Championships. You won the snatch session with 181kg snatch! It was a crazy save! You were on your heels completely! I was amazed by how you managed to stabilize that.

Even during the warm-up, I realized that I was receiving every snatch slightly behind. I knew I had to make slight adjustments for my actual attempts. I made the correction during my second attempt and managed to save it.

Yunseong snatching 181kg for his second attempt.

Before I go into your athletic background, please tell me your best competition/training numbers. 

My best numbers are:

  • International Competition Snatch: 181kg
  • International Competition C & J: 216kg
  • International Competition Total: 397kg
  • Local Competition Snatch: 183kg
  • Local Competition C & J: 218kg 
  • Local Competition Total: 401kg
  • Training best Snatch: 181kg
  • Training best C & J: 216kg

What are your best numbers for non-classic lifts like squats, presses, and deadlifts?

Overall, I lack strength compared to other athletes. I’m very bad when it comes to accessories. I’m just weak. (laughs) Also, I rarely push myself when it comes to non-classical lifts (e.g. power snatch, power clean). I tend to be pretty conservative during training.
My best numbers are:

  • Clean: 220kg
  • Power Clean 190kg
  • Power Snatch 160kg
  • Snatch 2RM: 170kg (he’s done this multiple times throughout the year)
  • Back Squat: 270kg
  • Front Squat: 240kg
  • Bench Press: 160kg
  • Push Press: 170kg
  • Clean Deadlift: 260kg
  • Snatch Deadlift: 230kg
Jin Yunseong doing 170kg snatch for a double

WOW! You can snatch and clean & jerk a huge percentage of your squat! Your efficiency is insane! 

Yes, since my technique is pretty good, my classic lifts go up automatically as long as I get stronger in my strength lifts. However, raising my strength has always been a struggle. (laughs again)

JIN’S BACKGROUND

Before we talk about your athletic career, I wanted to touch upon your background. I just found out the other day that you actually had a Taiwanese citizenship. Are your parents from Taiwan? 

Yes. I used to have Taiwanese citizenship, but I had to give it up in order to continue weightlifting in Korea. My father is from Taiwan, and he met my Korean mother here in Korea. 

So you are half Taiwanese and half Korean! Were you born and raised in Korea? 

Yes.

Can you speak mandarin at all? 

Nope! (laughs) My father never taught me any Chinese. I’m completely Korean inside.

I see. Let’s talk about your athletic background. When did you start weightlifting and what made you want to try it?

I began weightlifting back in 2007 when I was 12. My phys ed teacher back then told me to try weightlifting and that’s how I got started. 

Did you do any other sports? 

My phys ed teacher recommended other sports to me as well, but weightlifting was the only sport I was interested in.

Were you already somewhat strong compared to others when you started weightlifting? 

I was considered pretty strong in the school, but I don’t think I was very strong compared to rest of the world. When I just started out, my snatch was around 80kg and I clean & jerked 100kg.

How long did it take you to snatch 170 and clean & jerk 200?

The first time I snatched 170 was back in 2016. I started weightlifting in 2008…so it took me about 8 years to snatch 170. 

How much did you squat back then?

I think my back squat was around 250kg back then. 

Amazing! I guess your efficiency with your lifts were always really good! 

On your public profile on the IWF website, it says you were originally an 85kg lifter as a junior. Weren’t you already pretty tall back then? How tall are you now?

Right now I’m 180cm (5ft 11’) but back then I was already over 175cm (5ft 9’). Not a huge difference in height compared to back then, but I used to be very skinny. I was always a skinny person. During the first year of middle school (13 years old), I was 171cm tall but only weighed 59kg. 

Oh Wow.

Yes. I was always a skinny person. I had to bulk up a lot. When I competed as a 94kg lifter back in 2016, I was already 180cm tall. 

That is a lot of eating you have to go through…

Yes. I had to eat so much, and this was quite a struggle for me. Even right now, I’m struggling to move up to 109kg class. I have to keep gaining weight and this will continue to be quite a challenge for me. 

When you had to go down to 102kg class from 105kg class (old weight category), did the weight cut affect your training at all?

Actually, I only started bulking up to 105kg from 94kg class at the end of 2016. So even when I competed as a 105kg lifter, I only weighed 102kg. I was always trying really hard to move up to 105kg class, but during the bulk, the weight classes changed.

So the new weight category must’ve been perfect for you!

Actually, it was a bit unfortunate because in Korea, there is no 102kg class category. The competitions here are held based on the Olympic weight class categories. (102kg class is not an Olympic category. There are only 96kg and 109kg classes) So all the important competitions held in Korea didn’t have 102kg class.

I had to compete alongside athletes like Huiyeop Seo and Kisam Jeong (both are 109kg class lifters) who clearly had an advantage in terms of body weight. 

But didn’t you just win the Korean nationals couple weeks ago in the 109kg class weighing only 102.1kg? I remember you out-totaled the second ranked person by a decent amount. It was amazing!

Yes I did. Thank you very much. 

Jin Yunseong snatching 183kg at South Korea nationals in the 109kg class category (he only weighted 102.1kg) He out-snatched the second person by 9kg.

TRAINING HISTORY

I know DongHyun Kim is one of the head coaches of the national team. Is he your coach?

No, my coach is Yeon Joowon. He’s one of the national team head coaches. There are two coaches in charge of the men’s team and coach Yeon is in charge of me.

Are there any reasons why Coach Yeon is in charge of you instead of Coach Kim?

There are two head coaches simply because there are lot of athletes. I just happened to be coached by Coach Yeon. There are no specific reasons why I’m coached under him.

How does he coach his athletes? Any coaching philosophies you find unique?

In my opinion, Coach Yeon puts a bigger emphasis on classic lifts. Coach Kim tends to emphasize accessories and general strength just as much as the classic lifts. However, Coach Yeon devotes more time to the snatch and clean & jerk, and addresses individual athlete’s weaknesses by programming in appropriate accessory work. 

Usually we do a lot of accessory work in the morning training, but in the case of Coach Yeon, he makes us work on classic lifts as well. We also do a lot of variations that help us perform better on the classic lifts.

Can you give me an example?

For example, during morning sessions we will work on variations that help us with the snatch. I don’t know what this exercise is called but we do a variation where we are not allowed to use our hookgrip and the last pull. Everything is the same as a regular snatch but there’s no contact and hookgrip.

Oh I think you mean no hook no contact snatch! 

Jin Yunseong doing a no hook no contact snatch.

In Korea, we just call it strength snatch (힘 스내치). This exercise helps me keep the barbell closer to my body after the second pull.

So your coach cares more about technique in the classic lifts than working on accessory lifts?

Yes, he does address technique a lot, but he also tries to increase the volume of training.

What do you think is your biggest weakness right now?

It’s my strength (laughs).  I’m confident that as long as my strength numbers go up, my classic lifts will go up as well. 

What do you struggle the most with each lift? 

When it comes to technique, there’s nothing in particular that I feel I need to work on. I don’t think I have any bad habits as of now, and I’m also pretty good at performing well at competitions that matter. It’s just that I don’t have a lot of reserve in my strength.

My main concern right now is the weight gain. As I bulk up to 109, my positions (during the lifts) might change. I want to make sure this doesn’t become a problem in the future and pay attention to my weight gain.

You used to weigh 85kg as a junior, but moved up all the way to 102kg. Did this weight gain affect your training? I’m sure your body structure changed a lot during the gain.

When I was moving up from 94kg to 105kg (in the old weight category), it was annoying at first due to changes in positions. However, we (him and his coach) focused a lot on positions and tried to minimize the negative impact from weight gain. 

Jin Yunseong lifting as a 94kg at 2015 junior world championships. He looks completely different here!

What was the biggest change?

The starting position. My tummy just wouldn’t fit in between my legs when I try to get into starting position. (laughs)

I have a relatively “high” starting position (I think he was referring to the height of his hips when setting up for the first pull), and it was very difficult to fit my big tummy in between my legs while setting up. (laughs)

In order to keep the barbell close to my body, I have to keep everything as compact as possible. However, due to my enlarged belly from bulking, I couldn’t establish tightness around my core. Getting used to this was pretty rough at first. (laughs)

However, my body is pretty flexible compared to other athletes, so I think I was able to adapt relatively fast. 

You started out pretty young, so you must have amazing mobility.

Actually, even if you start out pretty young, athletes who’ve always struggled with mobility/flexibility will always have non-optimal mobility. 

Can you do a 180 degree split?

I can’t do it sideways, but I can do forward splits.

WOW! That’s amazing mobility for a man your size! Do you have amazing mobility for your shoulders as well?

I don’t have very good mobility for my shoulders. I’ve always struggled due to bad shoulders and even now I have a little bit of pain. 

I feel like your numbers went up a lot in recent years. 183kg Snatch is no joke. Did something in your training change in recent years? 

I actually hit 180kg back in 2017 at World Championships. For clean & jerk my numbers have been going up consistently over the years. There were no notable changes in my training. It’s just that I’ve been able to consistently increase my numbers over time. 

Jin Yunseong snatching 180kg at 2017 Anaheim

Also, I managed to raise my accessory lifts a lot. Yes. Believe it or not, I had to work hard in order to raise my accessory lifts to my current level (laughs). Thanks to that, my classic lifts went up as well.

CURRENT TRAINING ROUTINE

How many times do you train each week?

The Korean team trains 5 times a week. Usually we train twice on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. So usually a total of 8 sessions a week. 

Does your coach write the program for you?

Yes, he writes us a training program once a week. 

What kind of template do you follow?

Usually afternoon training sessions are saved for classic lifts. For morning sessions, we work a lot on accessory lifts. 

What kind of accessory lifts do you train for morning sessions?

We mainly do squats, presses, push presses, and other exercises to address imbalances. 

I’ve noticed that a lot of Korean athletes perform the “Snatch Grip Behind the Neck Thruster”(I don’t think they have a specific name for this exercise). Is this something your coach prescribes into your program as well?

Yes, we all do this exercise. 

Huiyeop Seo (109kg) performing Snatch Grip Thrusters

What’s your PR for this exercise?

I’m actually not very good at that exercise and rarely go for 1 rep maxes. I usually do triples with weights around 160kg. 

Do you do a lot of accessories for your upper body as well? What kind of exercises do you do?

The team usually work on upper body for at least 30 minutes each session. We focus on one muscle group per session. Exercises include typical bodybuilding stuff: push ups and bench presses for chest, and pull ups for the back. We also use machines for hypertrophy work. We usually do around 7 reps, and during competition season we try to reduce the rep range to five or even three. 

This is just my personal observation, but I feel like Asian athletes focus a lot more on doing hypertrophy work for upper body. 

I think this is inevitable because Asian athletes are built very differently from western athletes. Generally, Asian athletes have weaker muscular strength. I think this is why it’s important to make up for this strength deficit by incorporating lots of upper body work into our training. Also this is why we really need to master the  movement and positions under the bar. You really have to move smoothly under the bar. The Chinese team is a great example of this. 

If you look at the Chinese athletes too, they obviously do tons of hypertrophy work.

Yea I think they do it way too much, so it’s not realistic for us (the Korean team) to copy that. (laughs) We try to learn from them and incorporate it into our training as much as possible, though. 

How often do you usually squat?

We squat 4 times. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. We alternate Back Squat and Front Squat. 

What do you do for days where you only have one session?

For example, on Tuesdays we will just do classic lifts and light pulls. However, on Saturdays, we barely train the classic lifts and focus on accessories. Usually I work on my weaknesses that day. 

Does your frequency of training change at all before competition?

Right before the competition, we get rid of morning training sessions. We usually do this one week out from competition. During this period we focus a lot on classic lifts and lower body strength. We do a lot of pulls and at the end (of each sessions) we each do our own set of exercises to address individual weaknesses. 

How does your team peak for competitions?

We usually start raising the intensity of snatch and clean & jerk about one month before the competition. We lift weights that are closer to our 1 rep maxes. When we are about 1~2 weeks out, we reduce the number of training sessions to help our bodies recover better from session to session. 

PAST INJURIES

We all know elite level athletes all suffer from some kind of nagging injuries or pain. What’s bothering you the most right now? Is it just the shoulders? Any other injuries or pain symptoms you’re experiencing?

These are not serious injuries, but I usually get pain around my shoulders, lower back, and knees. 

For my shoulders, I’ve suffered an injury in the past and both shoulders used to hurt a lot. I used to receive all of my snatches forward. This caused my shoulders to get impinged every time and started causing very bad pain. I had to go through a lot of rehab work for my shoulders and did tons of exercises to strengthen the small muscles surrounding the shoulder joints. I also had to address my technique so that I can receive the barbell properly. Thanks to that I don’t experience pain anymore. 

Right now, I’m experiencing the most pain in my lower back. I think this is due to the fact that my lower back lacks strength. My classic lifts are pretty heavy relative to my accessory lifts (squats, pulls, etc.). Once I finish training classic lifts, my body is always extremely fatigued. Since I don’t have a lot of reserve strength compared to other athletes, there’s a higher risk on my lower back. I try my best to work on my core strength in order to avoid lower back pain. 

For my knees, I’m experiencing pain due to imbalances. On top of that, I have some issues in my collateral ligaments. However, the pain is very minor and it’s not bothering me that much at the moment. 

None of these are affecting your training right now?

I do experience pain here and there, but overall I’m able to train consistently without any issues right now. 

RECOVERY AFTER COMPETITION

I’ve noticed that some Korean athletes go on vacation for a couple of days after big competitions. Is this something recommended from coaches?

First, I want to make it clear that not everyone training at the national training center is on the same “team”. For example, I belong to Goyang city team, but I train here at the national training center as a national representative member. Qualified athletes from each teams are picked to train here at the national training center. So athletes that are not national representatives train with their individual teams back in their home towns. 

It’s different for every team. Some teams allow their athletes to take breaks. Some teams tell you to keep training even when they don’t plan to compete anytime soon. 

However, if you’re training at the national training center, it’s very difficult to take a break. We train according to the national team’s schedule. Even if we were to get a break, we will only get 1 week at most. 

THE KOREAN SYSTEM

So how does one become a professional weightlifter in South Korea?

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but in Korea, we have an elite sports system in place. Basically, all throughout middle school and high school, we continue doing sports. Maybe it’s not like this in foreign countries?

I believe China and Russia has a similar system. However, in countries like Japan, they don’t have this system put in place.

In Korea, all athletes have been through a similar process. Also, since we are in a very small country, all athletes know each other. We get recommendations from the team. (To be on the national team) Also, if you do well at national competitions, you can get scouted from the team as well.

You said you were picked to be on the national team when you were 20 right? So did you get scouted to be on the national team after you competed at national competitions in Korea?

Yes. In Korea, there are no specific competitions for you to qualify. Instead, competition seasons are divided to first half and second half of the year. First season is from January to July, and second season is from August to December. They look at your best result from one of these seasons and pick their athletes.

Was it always your goal to be on the national team even when you were little?

I started weightlifting in 2008. Back then, Jang Mi-ran was performing very well and I was inspired by her.

Yes, I remember. She was all over the Korean news back then.

I’m sure every athlete’s dream is to compete at the Olympics. We all aim high. I’m not different, and I want to be on that competition platform one day as well. This is what I train hard for.

Does weightlifting get a lot of support from the government compared to other sports?

Since weightlifting is not a popular sport here, we don’t get as much sponsorship compared to other popular sports. However, I don’t think it’s that bad. As long as it’s an Olympic category sport, athletes get a decent amount of support from the country.

I’m assuming it’s not as good as athletes get paid in countries like Russia, though.

Korea is working a lot on improving on the benefits athletes receive. Also, right now there is a lot of debate regarding the elite sports education system, since it is a very old system.

Ah, I see. So there are people who think this old system should no longer be in place.

Yes. However, this is a problem. Because what is going to happen to those athletes who are training right now? We can’t just suddenly get rid of this system.
I think Korea’s solution to this is to start changing the system little by little. For example, they now focus a lot more on athlete’s post-retirement career and give recommendations to them. They’re also putting more effort into building well-equipped sport facilities in middle schools and high schools.

How long do you think you’ll do weightlifting?

I want to continue weightlifting as long as possible. My goal is to continue till I’m at least 32 or 33 years old.

Do you have any post-retirement career plans?

A lot of athletes become coaches after they retire. However, I’m not sure if that’s what I really want. Will I be satisfied with my life being a coach? I don’t know. At the moment, I’m trying to find what I really want to do.
However, right now I’m very focused on my own training.

Of course. Right now your number 1 goal should be the Olympics, right?

Yes. So I don’t think about it too much right now.

You have plenty of time to think about what you want, if you’re planning to compete till you’re 33. You should take your time!

PREPARING FOR TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS

So for Tokyo 2020, I’m assuming you’re going to compete as a 109kg class lifter.

I’m not qualified yet, so I’ll have to wait and see how things turn out till April next year, but hopefully I can compete at the Olympics. 

Right now, the South Korean lifter with the most amount of Robi points (Olympic qualification points used for ranking) is Kisam Jeong. However, it looks like there’s not much of a difference between you and him.

I was barely able to earn points during the first 6-months qualification period because I was unable to compete at 2018 World Championships and 2019 Asian Championships. 

Why were you not able to compete at these major competitions?

Since I’ve not done any competitions in the new 102kg weight class, KWF (Korean Weightlifting Federation) decided not to send me to these major competitions. Fortunately, I was able to put up a total at EGAT’s cup in Thailand, but I didn’t perform well there due to my lower back pain. I believe I was only able to lift around 165kg snatch and 195kg clean and jerk.

And you competed as a 109kg for this competition, correct?

Yes. 

I was really worried about Olympic qualifications because I wasn’t able to earn enough points during the first 6-months qualification period. However, I did really well at this year’s Worlds. The remaining competition that is really important for me right now is the Asian Championships next year. As of now, I’m selected on the team to compete for Asian Championships. I’ve still got lots of time, so I’m planning to raise my total as much as possible while bulking up to 109kg body weight.

Which competitions are you planning to compete during the final qualification period?

I’m planning to compete at a small competition in Turkey (International Naim Suleymanoglu Tournament) and also compete at IWF World Cup held in Tianjin. However, I’m just going there just for the sake of competing. As you know, I need to compete 6 times in order to qualify for the Olympics, but so far I’ve only competed three times: once during the first period and twice during the second period. This means I need to compete at least three more times during the final qualification period. For the small competitions, I’m not planning to hit any big numbers. I’m not prepared to do so anyways. Until the competition in China (He’s referring to IWF World Cup) I’m planning to compete as a 102kg, and once that’s over I’m planning to move up and compete as 109kg for Asian Championships. Hopefully I can lift more with the extra body weight and gain more points for qualification. 

An extremely low quality footage of Jin Yunseong clean and jerking 206kg at 2019 International Naim Suleymanoglu Tournament in Turkey

I was assuming that you’d compete as 102kg class for Asian Championships since you can earn more points that way. Since this is a Gold event, you can get more points if you lift more weight in the 102kg class compared to 109kg class. 

I understand that this is a great strategy for qualifying. However, with this mindset, I won’t be able to win any medals at the Olympics.

Wouldn’t you want to make sure you qualify for the Olympic spot first by earning much points as possible in the 102kg class?

I understand that competing as a 109kg lifter for Asians can potentially be a risk. However, right now I’m confident that I can improve on my lifts. Also, if I perform very well at this event as a 109kg, it will give me more confidence and motivation leading into the Olympics. 

Are you the strongest 102~109kg class lifter in South Korea?

Actually, there is another lifter who has a similar total. Huiyeop Seo. He is an athlete who’s very strong in the clean and jerk. 

Huiyeop Seo clean and jerking 221kg at a local competition in Korea. He totaled 402kg this day.

Ah, yes. He’s a very strong lifter.

However, Huiyeop’s performance at competition is not very consistent. This is where he struggles a lot. We train together and I watch him lift all the time. He’s very strong, but I know I need to out-lift him.

Are you guys all good friends? Is there some tension between you guys due to the Olympic qualification?

Not at all. We are all competing against each other for the same goal, but we don’t have negative feelings for each other. 

You’re probably one of the youngest members on the national team, right?

I’m not the youngest, but I’m relatively young compared to others. Also, I don’t know if this is true for athletes from other countries as well, but middle- and heavy-weight class lifters don’t peak until they’ve reached a certain age. 

I think it’s similar in other countries. In general, it takes a lot of time for someone to reach over 100kg of body weight with muscles. 

Light-weight athletes perform very well even when they’re young, but middle- and heavy-weight class lifters need more time in order to fill up their weight class with necessary muscles. 

How much do you think you can lift as a 109kg class lifter?

I believe the bronze medalist for this year’s Worlds totaled 420kg. (Yang Zhe from China came in 3rd place with 420kg total). So for now, my goal is to hit a 420kg total. In order to do this, I need to add 10kg to both my snatch and clean & jerk.  

So you’re planning to hit 193kg snatch and 228kg clean & jerk! That’s huge!!

Yes. Obviously, this is not going to be easy. I have less than a year left. However, aiming towards this goal will be a great motivation for me going forward. Even if I can’t accomplish these numbers, I’m going to try my best as much as possible. 

Thank you so much for your time and good luck preparing for your next competition! I wish you the best!