Gil Young Ah was born on April 11, 1970, in Ansan, Korea.
Gil attended the Busan Naesong Elementary School and then entered the Therese Girls Middle School. Her first taste of success came in 1985 when she won the National Middle School Girls’ Doubles title with Lee Young Sook. After graduating from the Therese Girls Middle School, she studied at the Theresa Girls High School.
Gil first represented Korea on the international stage at the 1987 Bimantara World Junior Badminton Invitational held in Jakarta. She earned a bronze medal in Girls’ Singles and a silver medal in Girls’ Doubles with Lee Jung Mi. The Korean pair lost to Susy Susanti and Lilik Sudarwati in the finals. Susanti had tripled crowned at that event.
A week later, the 17-year-old Gil had her first podium finish in a senior event. She reached the semi-finals of the 1987 Welsh Open in Women’s Singles and Mixed Doubles with Park Seok Hwan.
From then on, Gil slowly improved her results on the international scene. She partnered up with Kim Ho Ja at the 1989 World Championships and reached the Round of 16s.
Back home in Korea, the 19-year-old Gil and Lee Young Sook won the national title in Women’s Doubles in 1989. Girl was attending the Busan Foreign Language University and playing for the Busan City Hall team at that time.
Gil reached her first international senior final at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing. Gil and Chung So lost to local favourites, Guan Weizhan and Nong Qunhua, in the final to go home with a silver medal.
In early May of 1991, Gil was a part of Korea’s first victory at the second edition of Sudirman cup. A week later, she earned a bronze medal in Women’s Doubles with Shim Eun Jung but Gil’s first streak of success all came at the end of 1991. The young Korean won three titles in less than two months. Gil won two titles in Women’s Doubles with Hwang Hye Young at the Thailand Open and Hong Kong Open and ended the year with her first title in Mixed Doubles with Shon Jin Hwan at the Asian Cup. Her Women’s Doubles at the Thailand Open was her first international senior title in individual competition.
Gil and Shim had a good run at the 1992 Olympics with a bronze medal finish in Women’s Doubles. In 1992, she earned two more titles at the Chinese Taipei Open in Women’s Doubles with Shim and Hong Kong Open in Mixed Doubles with Lee San Bok. Starting from 1993, all of Gil’s titles for the rest of her career would be shared with three partners only: Chung So Young and Jang Hye Ock in Women’s Doubles and Kim Dong Moon in Mixed Doubles.
The year of 1993 was a fantastic year for Gil. Korea had her second consecutive successful campaign at the Sudirman Cup. Gil contributed two vital tie points to secure Korea’s 3-2 victory over Indonesia in the final round.
In the same year, Gil and Chung a bronze medal in Women’s Doubles at the World Championships. They began many consecutive runs at the Swedish Open (1993-1994 with Chung), Japan Open (1993-1994 with Chung, 1996 with Jang Hye Ock), and an impressive four crowns in a row at the Korea Open (1993-1994 with Chung and 1995-1996 with Jang).
Gil would become one of the very rare players to have won three consecutive titles at the All England. She won two All England titles in 1993 and 1994 with Chung and finished off her third successive year with a title in 1995 with Jang. In addition to her All England titles, Gil also won a silver medal at the 1994 Asian Games with Chung.
Gil began her partnership with Jang with a victorious tournament at the 1995 Korea Open. After their victory, Gil and Jang were quickly tested at the World Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland. In the official programme of the championships, Richard Eaton dubbed the newly formed partnership as “a developing threat.” He cautioned his readers not to take the Koreans lightly, “Gil Young-Ah and Jang Hye-Ock (…) won the All-England title unseeded.”
Gil and Jang ran into very tough opposition at the quarterfinal stage against the mighty world number #1 pairing of Ge Fei and Gu Jun from China. The Koreans had to dig deep to triumph 15-12, 11-15, 15-11. After toppling the giants, Gil and Jang encountered no resistance from Chinese Qin Yiyuan and Tang Yongshu. The Koreans only had one more hurdle to overcome in the form of world number #3, Finarsih and Lili Tampi of Indonesia, whom they had beaten at the Korea Open earlier in the year.
In the final, the Koreans’ gold medal hopes began to dim when they were down 0-10 in the first game. The Indonesians easily won the first game 15-3 but the Koreans fought hard to take the second game 15-11. Down to the third game, prospects were looking good for the Koreans who had a decisive 12-1 lead but they began to waver at the end. Even with the watchful eye of coach Kim Moon Soo, it took the Koreans five match points to end the 34-minute deciding game with the score of 15-10. Gil and her 18-year-old partner Jang embraced in joy to celebrate their World Championship title in Women’s Doubles title. To this day, Gil and Jang’s crown in 1995 was Korea’s first and only World Championships title in history in Women’s Doubles.
Gil’s finest hour came in the final match of the 1996 Olympic Games. After Gil and Jang’s disappointing defeat to Ge and Gu in Women’s Doubles final on the previous day, Gil redeemed herself in her Mixed Doubles with Kim Dong Moon. Gil and Kim had no trouble in their earlier rounds against the second and fourth seeds in the quarters and semis respectively. In an all-Korean affair pitting them against first seeds and compatriots, Park Joo Bong and Ra Kyung Min, Gil and Kim lost the first game 13-15 but came back strong in the second to win 15-4. They were trailing in the third and final game but Gil’s anticipation at the net and Kim’s heavy smashes opened the way to a 15-12 final score. This gold medal was more than just Gil’s Olympic triumph. It was the first Olympic medal ever awarded in Mixed Doubles as the event made its debut at the 1996 Olympic Games. Gil was also the most successful player at Atlanta with silver in Women’s Doubles and gold in Mixed Doubles.
In a book published in 2002, Gil revealed the behind-the-scenes details of her Olympic journey. A few days before her first-round match in Atlanta, Head Coach Han Sung Kwi had a private talk with her in which he said that playing in two categories could create stamina problems so he told her to drop out of Mixed Doubles. “When the Head Coach said that, I was crestfallen. Not just me but my partner had worked so hard and all I could think of was how bad Dong Moon would feel to hear that we’d be dropping out. I felt so sorry for Dong Moon that I just had to agonize over it for a couple of days. Our first-round opponents were to be a quite weak Hong Kong team so I told the Head Coach that I would play just one game, just to use it as a warm-up.”
The day before the match, Gil finally told Kim Dong Moon the truth and said, “I will just play at the net and whenever you get the chance to end the rally, you end it.” Kim did a lot of hard smashing and had no problem quickly ending the rally. The pair advanced to the second round and Gil made the same promise of playing one game to Head Coach Han but they again advanced easily to the next round. In the quarter-finals, it appeared that they would really have to give up after falling behind the Indonesian pair but Coach Han received the news that their match was being broadcasted live on television and told them to try their hardest to win. The rest was history.
Gil played a handful of international tournaments in 1997 before retiring from the national team.
After her retirement from the national team, Gil became a player for the pro team Samsung Electro-Mechanics and transitioned into a trainer for that same team from 1997-2003. In 2004, she was promoted to the position of coach. She reached even higher heights when she became a coach to the Junior National team from 2005-2007. She returned to Samsung from 2008-2010 and was promoted to the position of Head Coach of the Samsung Electro-Mechanics women’s team in 2011. The press billed her as the first woman to ascend to such a position.
In 2015, upon the departure of Kim Moon Soo, she became the Head Coach of the combined Samsung team and the Korean press said she was the first woman to be Head Coach of a Men’s pro team. In 2018, Gil became again the only Head Coach for Samsung, after the passing of Jung Jae Sung, who had taken on the Men’s Team Head Coach position in 2017.
Gil is married to the volleyball player, Kim Hang Soon. In an interview by the Badminton Korea magazine in January 2018, Gil said: “I never had any intention of encouraging my kids to take up sport. That is because for me, the life of an athlete was so difficult. However, I guess there is no tricking blood.”
In 2018, Gil’s son, Kim Won Ho, graduated from high school and joined his mother’s Samsung Electro-Mechanics pro badminton team. When asked about having her son on the team, Gil said, “To be honest, if I’d wanted things to be easy, we wouldn’t have had Won Ho join the team. Having my own son on the team I head puts pressure on me, too. But he was the top player among those graduating from high school this year. I don’t actually coach him directly. Jung Jae Sung is Head Coach of the men’s team and the men are coached by Jung Hoon Min. We’re in the same organization but coaching responsibilities are divided.” Gil’s daughter, Kim Ah Young, also plays for an elite high school team in Suwon.
Gil Young Ah was inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame in 2009.
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS (in order by year)
2009 – BWF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
1995 World Championships Official Programme
Apa & Siapa (Sabaruddin Sa.)
Badminton Korea (Magazine)
Badminton World Federation – Statutes 2007/2008
Donga Ilbo (December 30, 1989)
Histoire du badminton (Jean-Yves Guillain)
International Badminton … the first 75 years (BWF)
World Badminton (Magazine)
배드민턴은나의인생 (Badminton is my Life), Song Su Nam
-- By Yves Lacroix