Athleticism takes center stage at Pole Sports Championships


Lee Mi-ju competes during the 2023 pole sports national squad selection contest at Eunpyeong Culture & Arts Center in Eunpyeong District, northern Seoul on Saturday. [KOREA POLE SPORTS ASSOCIATION]

Lee Mi-ju topped the podium and earned a spot in the national pole sports squad on Saturday as the Korea Pole Sports Association selected a new Team Korea ahead of the 2023 World Pole & Aerial Championships in Kielce, Poland in October.

Pole sport is born from pole dancing — merging dance and acrobatics using a vertical metal pole — and has graduated beyond a simple pastime to an actual sport recognized by the Global Association of International Sports Federations.

The sport, formally known as pole sports, came to prominence in recent years after the International Pole Sports Federation — the governing body for pole sports — was founded in 2009.

The first World Championships took place in 2012 and more pole sports athletes have emerged as the popularity of the sport grew. A total of 1,724 athletes from 54 countries competed in the 2021 World Championships.

The popularity of the sport has also grown in Korea, with the number of pole dance studios increasing by 500 percent in the past five years.

Multiple countries, including Korea, have a national team, which is selected through an annual selection contest.

The annual contest took place on Saturday at Eunpyeong Culture & Arts Center in Eunpyeong District, northern Seoul after the Korea Pole Sports Championships that preceded the event at the same venue.

Athletes climbed up, spun from, flipped onto, or jumped off the vertical pole to gain high points. The athletes that pulled off the best combinations of multiple complex movements in the most elaborate manner gained the most points to ultimately top the podium.

Incumbent national team members competed in the selection contest, including Lee, who was looking to earn a spot in the national squad for the fifth year in a row.

The 34-year-old participated in the Senior 30+ Women category of the elite division and scored 40.3 points, ultimately taking gold and holding her spot on the national team.

“I am so happy,” Lee said after the event. “I will continue to take part in the contest next year.

“My next objective is to go to the World Championships and score many points.”

A high level of flexibility as well as stamina are essential as a pole sports athlete, but Lee does not come from a sports background.

“I did not compete in any other sports,” Lee said, “I started pole sports after seeing it in the news. I competed in a pole sports event and decided to pursue a career in the sport afterward.

“I have been in this sport for about eight years and have competed in pole sports events for five years.”

Park Yeon-ju, 25, who competed in the semi-pro division at the Korea Pole Sports Championships, on the other hand, has a background in Taekwondo.

“I started pole sports about three years ago and I originally did not intend to participate in a competition,” Park said. “I did Taekwondo and have always liked sports and I found it really cool when I saw an athlete in a different [pole sports] event. My teacher encouraged me to try it, so I decided to go for a challenge.”

Neither Lee nor Park need any additional physical training to compete better, as pole sports itself is already a full-body exercise.

“I didn’t do anything else, in particular,” Park said. “I just stretch and practiced some acrobatic movements to include those in my move.”

Park cannot compete in this year’s World Championships as she did not take part in the national squad selection event.

Gold medalist Lee, on the other hand, will head to Poland in October, where she looks to medal.

“Winning the event could be possible someday if I work hard,” Lee said.

Along with Lee, three other athletes in the elite division earned a spot in the national team squad: Lim Ji-ho of the Junior Female category, Park Ki-eun of the Novice Female category and Lee June-yeong of the Master 50+ Women.

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