The LG Twins of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), one of the most beloved teams in South Korean professional sports, ended their 29-year title drought in 2023, finally giving their aggrieved fan base much to cheer about.
The Twins reached the pinnacle of South Korean baseball by edging out the KT Wiz for the Korean Series title, and their championship run was voted the No. 1 sports story of the year in Yonhap News Agency’s annual survey of 55 South Korean newspapers and broadcasters.
Sports journalists were asked to vote on newsworthy stories, with a first-place vote worth 10 points. The Twins’ title-winning performance earned 451 points, including 30 first-place votes.
The Twins had the best record in the regular season and earned a bye to the Korean Series. They then defeated the Wiz in five games for the long-awaited title.
The Twins lost the first game at home by 3-2. Before this year, teams that claimed Game 1 of the Korean Series had gone on to win the title nearly 75 percent of the time.
Things looked even direr for the Twins when they found themselves trailing 4-0 after one inning in Game 2. But they rallied to win the game 5-4 to even up the series, with catcher Park Dong-won smacking a go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom eighth.
The Twins then took the next three games. The Twins won an 8-7 thriller in Game 3 when they scored three runs in the top of the ninth. The Twins blew out the Wiz 15-4 in Game 4 and closed out the series with a tidy 6-2 win in Game 5.
Coming in at No. 2 on the list was another baseball item: Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres won the National League Gold Glove at the utility position, becoming the first Asian-born infielder to win a Gold Glove in Major League Baseball (MLB) history.
Kim had been a finalist for the Gold Glove at shortstop but came up short in 2022, his second big league season. In 2023, Kim fully blossomed into one of the top defenders in MLB while showing off his versatility. Kim logged 106 games at second base, 32 games at third base and 20 games at shortstop.
Kim also established career highs across the board offensively, with a .260/.351/.398 line, 17 home runs, 60 RBIs and 38 steals.
South Korean sports fans also enjoyed some historic performances in badminton, as An Se-young soared to dizzying heights in 2023. Her exploits, which included a world title and two Asian Games gold medals, ranked No. 3 on Yonhap’s list with 274 points.
In July, the 21-year-old became the first South Korean to reach No. 1 in the women’s singles rankings. She captured 10 major titles, highlighted by her first career world singles title in August and gold medals in the women’s singles and team events at the Asian Games in China in October. She was recently named the Female Player of the Year by the Badminton World Federation.
As captain of the South Korean men’s national football team, Son Heung-min has been one of the most popular athletes in his native country. His stardom reached another level in 2023, a year in which he scored his 100th Premier League goal, 200th European goal and was named the new skipper for Tottenham Hotspur. His performance earned 269 points to rank No. 4 in the survey.
The next on the list was another football story. Two of the country’s best players, midfielder Lee Kang-in and defender Kim Min-jae, each found a new home with a big club in Europe over the summer.
Lee, 22, became a new member of the French champions Paris Saint-Germain in July after leaving the Spanish side RCD Mallorca. Kim, 27, signed with German champions Bayern Munich later in the same month, just a few weeks after helping Napoli win their first Serie A title in 33 years and being named the best defender in the top Italian league. By joining clubs with championship pedigrees, Lee and Kim became even more visible in South Korea and across Europe.
Swimming also saw the emergence of 20-something stars at international competitions in 2023, and their success ranked No. 6 on the top sports news survey.
In July, Hwang Sun-woo grabbed bronze in the men’s 200-meter freestyle at the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, becoming the first South Korean to win a medal at consecutive world championships.
Hwang, 20, collected six medals at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in September, including two gold medals. Kim Woo-min, 22, claimed one more gold medal than Hwang in Hangzhou to become South Korea’s first triple gold medalist in Asian Games swimming in 13 years.
Checking in at No. 7 was another strong season for the high jumper Woo Sang-hyeok, who became the first South Korean to win a gold medal at the prestigious Diamond League Final in September. Woo matched his own national record height of 2.35 meters for the monumental title.
Woo battled through some heel problems and a sinus infection earlier in the year. He finished a disappointing sixth at the world championships in August but bounced back nicely for the Diamond League Final gold. Woo also won silver at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
South Korea did one better in men’s football at the Asiad, beating Japan 2-1 for their third straight gold medal. Coached by Hwang Sun-hong, South Korea’s under-24 squad went on an undefeated run — three wins in the group stage and four more in the knockouts. They scored 27 goals and conceded only three, and their inexorable march to the top of the podium ranked eighth in Yonhap’s rankings.
In domestic football, Ulsan Hyundai FC successfully defended their K League 1 title, while Suwon Samsung Bluewings, a four-time league champions, suffered direct relegation to the K League 2 after finishing in last place. Their contrasting performances made for a memorable year in South Korean football, and this story ranked ninth in Yonhap’s survey.
Ulsan finished with 76 points, 12 ahead of Pohang Steelers. They clinched their title on Oct. 29, with three matches to spare, and were hardly threatened at the top. They lost consecutive matches only once all season.
On the other hand, Suwon Samsung finished dead last and will play in the K League 2 for the first time in club history. They needed to beat Gangwon FC in their season finale on Dec. 2 to have any shot at avoiding direct relegation, but instead settled for a goalless draw in an uninspired performance.
Rounding out the top 10 in Yonhap’s rankings was a drought-busting performance by the South Korean women’s table tennis duo of Jeon Ji-hee and Shin Yu-bin.
Jeon and Shin teamed up for South Korea’s first ping pong gold at the Asian Games in 21 years, as they defeated North Koreans Cha Su-yong and Pak Su-gyong in the final.
Jeon and Shin, seeded No. 1, caught a break when the No. 2 seed from China, Chen Meng and Wang Yidi, suffered a shock loss in the quarterfinals.
In the first all-Korean showdown for an Asiad table tennis gold medal in 33 years, Jeon and Shin beat their North Korean foes in five games. (Yonhap)