Sports in Varietyland: Sports Star Guestings on ‘Running Man’

What do you get when you cross elite athletes with Running Man?

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No, not *this* Running Man!!!

A different breed of entertainment. Rio 2016 may be officially over but the sports high continues in this blog, as we recall the times when famous athletes appeared on Running Man. This variety show uses the sports theme a lot (A LOT) and in different ways – from episode specials like Idol Olympics, to recurring mini games like ssireum (Korean wrestling). But Running Man gets on a different level of competitiveness and hilarity when actual sports icons take the stage.

Who knew that sports stars could be adorable and fun? When people who compete for a living get mixed up with people who generate laughs for a living, the result can be pretty hilarious. Whenever sportsmen reach RM territory, expect a lighter side to your sports heroes, the rare sight of Kim Jong-kook being relatively less awesome, and two words: SUPERPOWER SPORTS.

Olympians Park Tae-hwan and Son Yeon-jae
Episodes 109-110

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Swimmer Park Tae-hwan is one of the few people who can make bulky Spartakook look average-sized – just let them stand next to each other. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), these two made an instant bond and looked really close throughout the episode. But the guys are really there for gymnast Son Yeon-jae, who’s ever-smiling and constantly fascinated at what’s happening. Don’t let her cuteness fool you though, as she can get competitive even at small things.

Some can’t help but ship Marine Boy and Rhythmic Fairy as soon as they appeared together at the opening scene. And who wouldn’t? They’re so cute at being awkward with each other and with getting used to the show.

About the athletes:

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Park Tae-hwan is an Olympic gold medalist and the first Korean to win an Olympic medal in swimming (Beijing 2008). He had his fair share of controversies – like his almost-disqualification in the 2012 Summer Olympics for an alleged false-start, and his recent doping scandal. While he was able to participate in Rio 2016, the lack of preparation led to a lackluster performance from the once-topnotch swimmer. Here’s what he can do though at his peak:

Rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae is a two-time Olympian and is currently ranked 5th in world rankings. She almost clinched a podium finish in the recently-concluded 2016 Summer Olympics, finishing 4th place. Check out her graceful moves and winsome smile here:


Ultimate Fighters Choo Sung-hoon and Lee Si-young
Episodes 131 (Choo Sung-hoon & Lee Si-young), 150 (Choi Sung-hoon)

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The mere mention of their names can incite fear among the RM gang (well, not as much as Running Man Hunter Choi Min-soo but close enough). When celebrity MMA fighter Choo Sung-hoon and actress/boxer (still amazed at her professional track) Lee Si-young came on the show, you know there’s going to be bloodshed. Viewers were very pleased with the highly-anticipated showdown between fated rivals Choi Sung-hoon and Kim Jong-kook, and ultimate amazon Lee Si-young proved her strength (and, er, violent streak?) amongst the male-dominated cast.

Seems like Kwang-soo always ends up as the victim, though. Nothing new about that.

But I must say, Choo Sung-hoon’s one-on-one battle with Ace Song Ji-hyo (ep150) was even more thrilling.

About the athletes:

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Judoka-turned-mixed martial artist Choo Sung-hoon is more known in Japan and the UFC world as Yoshihiro Akiyama. He has represented both Korea and Japan in separate Asian competitions and won gold in both occasions. His image as a tough fighter had a turnaround though when he was cast in reality-variety show The Return of Superman, as he was seen as a doting dad (with a unique fashion style) to his only daughter Sarang. His popularity began to spread even more in South Korea, and became a household name among the Korean audience.

Actress Lee Si-young only took up boxing in 2010 to prepare for a role in a drama, but ended up pursuing it seriously. She surprised many with her rise to the boxing world,  as it didn’t suit her image. Her agency was even worried about her passion, because the sport can lead to damaging injuries (especially to her face).  But talent and perseverance led her to be the first celebrity (male or female) to ever become a national athlete in any sport, which she achieved at 31 years old.


Major Leaguers Choo Shin-soo, Ryu Hyun-jin, and Kang Jung-ho
Episode 119 (Choo Chin-soo & Ryu Hyun-jin), 171-173 (Ryu Hyun-jin), 227 (Ryu Hyun-jin & Kang Jung-ho)

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These beefy baseball players may not know variety, but their sheer amusement at the chaos around them can be quite entertaining. They all know the games are just for fun, but when a sportsman’s pride is on the line, the desire to win automatically comes out. The look on their faces just showed how much they want to succeed even in the simplest games.

Not much of a baseball fan myself but I found new appreciation for the sport after watching the fun Superpower Baseball episodes. Sometimes having extreme (absurd?) powers is the only way to equalize a baseball match against seasoned pros.

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Among the three icons, though, Ryu Hyun-jin would have to be my favorite. He may be called “monster pitcher” but he is one adorable guest, having the sense of humor and natural cuteness that comes through onscreen. Also loved his interactions with Suzy.

About the athletes:

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Choo Shin-soo played as a pitcher in his stint in South Korea, but switched to outfielder upon entering the Major League. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2005 and is currently with the Texas Rangers. However, he just recently injured his left forearm, and it was announced that he will be missing the rest of this season.

Left-handed pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin is the first Korean to serve as a starting pitcher of a Major League postseason game. The 29 year-old played for the Hanhwa Eagles in South Korea, before debuting in MLB with the LA Dodgers (He got officially drafted to the Major League while filming Running Man). Representing South Korea, he’s also part of the team that won gold in men’s baseball during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kang Jung-ho is an infielder for the Pittsburg Pirates, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015. Prior to joining Major League Baseball, he played in the KBO (Korea Baseball Organization) League for the Hyundai Unicorns and Nexen Heroes.


Forever Captain Park Ji-sung
Episodes 95-97, 152-154, 199-200, 283-284

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A self-professed Running Man fan, Park Ji-sung instantly clicked with the RM members from his first visit and has appeared on the show every year since. The “variety captain” proved he can be considered a regular member with his witty remarks and charisma. Even the RM cast acknowledge his innate variety skills and comedic talent. You’d almost forget he’s a footballer until he shows off his athletic abilities (the football fan in me is squealing). He’s one of the best guests on the show, and you just know that everyone loves having him around.

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While ALL of his episodes are a must-watch, his first appearance is especially memorable because of the epic superpower soccer game (episode 96)!

What’s more with the Park Ji-sung Specials is the Asian Dream Cup (hosted by JS Foundation), where founder Captain Park’s all-star team (Running Man members included) competes in charity football matches internationally (like Thailand, Indonesia, and China). He even brought his pal and Manchester Utd teammate Patrice Evra, who also had his fair share of funny moments.

About the athlete:

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Park Ji-sung is considered the most successful Asian footballer in history, having an extensive career in the international scene. Called “forever captain”, he’s treasured by South Koreans for being the captain of the national team until his retirement. He was also team captain at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and he made a record for being the first Korean to score in three consecutive World Cup seasons (2002, 2006, 2010). He retired from the pro football scene in 2014, but remains affiliated with Manchester United as a global ambassador.

Have you seen these sports heroes on the show? What was your favorite episode/moment?

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