Korean Actors Who Were Once Athletes

It’s the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics y’all! Whether you’re following it or not, it sure is affecting drama broadcast schedules. Major TV networks in Korea have pre-empted some currently airing shows for the Olympics broadcast, like W – Two Worlds, Wanted and Flower in Prison. Even the premiere of Moonlight Drawn by the Clouds has been pushed back by a week in light of this sporting event.

But enough with the violent reactions, because sports and dramas *can* coexist. In keeping with the Olympics season, I’ve decided to work on the theme “sports-meets-dramaland” in my next blogs, starting with this one. Hope you enjoy!

We all know that a lot of our favorite K-actors have come from different backgrounds – like former models, idols, or even salarymen. The following people however were once in the spotlight for their athleticism. K-entertainment can form its own sports team with these stars – I mean “star athletes” (see what I did there? Lol):

Swimming: So Ji-sub, UEE, and Sung Hoon


It’s no surprise to see So Ji-sub (Oh My Venus), UEE (Marriage Contract), and Sung Hoon (Five Children, also on Oh My Venus) on this list, as their swimming stints are pretty known in the industry. All three have competed at National level, and Sung Hoon was even a member of the national team until injury led him to retire. UEE previously admitted being conscious about her athletic physique during her girl group days, but it was sure useful in her role as a star swimmer in Hogu’s Love

Short Track Speed Skating: Song Joong-ki


Song Joong-ki’s (Descendants of the Sun) 12-year stint as a short track speed racer got him to the National Games thrice. He could have gotten further in his sports career, but an injury during his high school days forced him to stop. Still, he was able to use his skill when he played as a speed skating national athlete in the drama Triple.

Figure Skating: Song Hye-kyo


Looks like the Song-Song couple shared the love of being on ice, as its other half Song Hye-kyo once trained to be a figure skater in her younger years.

Football (Soccer): Yoon Doo-joon


Idol-actor Doo-joon (Splash Splash Love) is known in the idol world as a “soccer-dol” (soccer idol) because of his impressive football skills. He’s good enough to be a former member of the national team back in his school days. In 2014, he was appointed as honorary ambassador of the K-League. Now he continues his passion for the sport as a member of the celebrity soccer club FC Men.

Taekwondo: Jang Hyuk

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Jang Hyuk’s (Beautiful Mind) martial arts background helped him play his fighter roles in various dramas and films (along with achieving a chiseled body). He was a former professional taekwondo athlete and he also practiced Jeet Kune Do (martial arts created by Bruce Lee).

Baseball: Yoon Hyun-min


Moving on to another Beautiful Mind star, Yoon Hyun-min started playing baseball in middle school and had a career as a pro baseball player before pursuing acting in 2007.

Boxing: Lee Si-young (& Kang Gary)

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Probably my favorite actor-athlete story, Lee Si-young (My Beautiful Bride) – who started gaining attention in her supporting role in Boys over Flowers­ – was already an actress prior to becoming a boxing champ. She took up boxing in 2010 to prepare for a role in a drama (that in the end was not produced), and the rest is history. In 2013, she became the “first mainstream celebrity/entertainer (male or female) to be a national athlete of any sport”. And she was already 31 years old that time!

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Crossing over briefly to varietyland (I just had to), I can’t mention boxing without mentioning rapper and Running Man member Gary, who was an amateur boxer for 10 years before stepping into showbiz.

Basketball: Shin Sung-rok

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Before his most-known role as a sinister villain in You Who Came from the Stars, Shin Sung-rok used his towering height as an amateur basketball player. Like many others on this list, he retired from the sporting world due to injuries. The basketball talent runs in the family as his brother also played amateur basketball before eventually becoming a chef.

They didn’t turn out to be sporting legends but their sports background gave them the discipline and perseverance (plus the perfect physique) to succeed in the entertainment business. And we’re glad to have them in our fave dramas.

Which of these athletic stars caught your attention?

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