The Olympics is a judgment call

Song Chul Kim can now call himself an Olympian.

The 44-year-old Burnaby resident is among the top 30 officials world-wide selected to judge the sport of taekwondo at the Summer Olympic Games in London in August.

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"They say winning an Olympic medal is like a gift from the God, so even being able to go as a referee I feel lucky," said Kim, who has operated S.C. Kim's Taekwondo at McKay and Kingsway for the past 17 years. "I can still say I was an Olympian. It's great. It's a dream come true."

But like most athletes, the road to the Games is no easier for officials.

Kim was among six Canadian officials initially nominated by Taekwondo Canada. He then underwent further scrutiny at a number of selection camps, including four days of training in Baku, Azerbaijan in February for the lucky final 30 referees.

Kim was shortlisted from a group of 51 Pan American referees at a regional camp held in Mexico City in April of last year.

He was then chosen from a final group of 60 referees following further evaluation at the 2011 world championships, and world, Asian and European qualification tournaments.

"It is quite hard to get selected and recommended. You have to perform well. Fairness is key," said Kim, a seventh dan black belt, a senior first class official and considered one of the top referees in Canada.

"Just being in (the Olympic test event in London) was real exciting. My heart was beating. The pressure, the atmosphere, the lighting. It was really something else. I really had more desire to really be here," Kim said.

Kim immigrated to Canada and settled in Burnaby with his family in 1984, and attended Burnaby North Secondary.

He picked up taekwondo again and competed nationally for seven years but never quite made it at the Olympic level.

He took the advice of one of his senior mentors and tried officiating.

"I thought maybe I should try it, too," he said. "At the nationals, people said good things about my refereeing, and I had a lot of good feedback. Maybe I'm doing well. Maybe I should get involved."

As Kim pursued this side of the sport, he took the gravity of his decisions to heart and felt deeply how his judgements could affect the outcome of a match.

"More and more I wanted to take a step up. It's more of a challenge," Kim added.

"Winning a medal can be a lifechanger. I felt those kind of things and how important judging is. Good judgement is important. I have the responsibility for London 2012."

Kim will work primarily as a centre ring judge at the Olympics. As such, he will be in charge of overall match management, including the first-ever use of video replay and the new electronic body protection system worn by the fighters, which scores the kicks and blows.

Fitness, focus and interpretation of the rules and penalties is crucial at the highest level.

"As a Canadian referee I want to fare well, look good, make a good judgement and be a part of the Olympic Games," said Kim.

At the Olympic demonstration tournament held in London in December of last year, Kim had a glimpse of what he might expect at the Games.

Kim was officiating a match between hometown Olympic hopeful Aaron Cook and the world No. 2 from Spain, which went to a sudden-death fourth round.

"It was back and forth and finished 10-10 after three rounds," Kim remembered. "Cook scored first (in the golden-point round and won). After I came out, all the referees were standing and giving me a hand, saying I did a good job. It was a pleasing moment for me. I think that was the moment I remember."

Like all the Olympic athletes, Kim wants to be involved in a medal event.

"Yes, it would be great if I'm in one of the gold-medal matches. It would be an honour, but it's not up to me," he said.

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