Player Han had the best season, leading the team to achieve the first treble and winning three consecutive championships, and winning the first regular season MVP in his personal career. Although he was born in 1985, he is more passionate and strong than anyone else. Now, his age and career may have dulled the heights of the summit, but he continues to burn his passion without losing the driving force of Mercury. As a result, they are once again enjoying happiness in the highest place. While winning the championship four times, there were countless people next to one player. <The Spike> looked back on the stories of the people who shared his glorious moments together.
Q. Hello! I met <The Spike> a year after the joint interview with Kwak Seung-seok in April of last year. Are you more comfortable doing it alone (laughs)?
It doesn’t matter if I do something together or alone (laughs).
STEP 1. Player Han’s own story
Q. Today, I’m going to have time to listen to player Han’s ‘personal story’. The first person to share is a story about one player himself. How did you feel when you look back on the 2017-2018 season when Han and Korean Air first reached the top?
At that time, not only me but everyone aspired to win. I was always chasing the championship, but I couldn’t achieve it. So the moment I confirmed my first win, I was really thrilled.
Q. You didn’t win your first championship until you were in your 10th year in the league. What was the driving force that helped you overcome the waiting and frustration?
During the waiting time, I felt that the team was getting stronger. It just took a while. It’s amazing to think about it now that those times were the process that ultimately led to the championship. When I achieved my goal, I was really thrilled.
Q. After that, the 2018-2019 season stayed in runner-up, and the 2019-2020 season was not held at all due to Corona 19. After tasting the sweetness of winning once, it must have been a time when regret and earnestness were greater. How was it?
It was really hard because of Corona 19. It was definitely a time when I believed that I could win again, but I was really frustrated and mentally stressed because I couldn’t win the championship due to an unexpected external factor. I also got Corona 19 once, but the quarantine period was longer when I was quarantined as a close contact than when I got it. I think I was more anxious than when it took me (laughs). If you think about it now, the number of confirmed cases at that time was nothing.
Q. And in the 2020-2021 season, Han and Korean Air will achieve their second and first combined victory. I think you must have felt different from when you won your first championship.
I finally felt that our team was completed as we had envisioned. The feeling when I won was the same as before. It was great. I thought I did it again. And I thought I could do more in the future.
Q. Even in the 2021-2022 season, when Corona 19 hit the V-League once again, the men’s spring volleyball was played, and the championship was once again won by Han and Korean Air. Since this series was played in a best-of-three format, there must have been a lot of pressure, but how was it?
Rather, it was nice to be able to decide the game faster than 5 premises. It was nice to think that the physically and psychologically difficult moments would end sooner. I wanted to finish it quickly and rest (laughs).
Q. And in the 2022-2023 season, Han and Korean Air finally won their fourth championship. It seemed like the most emotionally disturbing win you’ve ever won, but looking back a bit later, how do you feel when you look back at your fourth win?
I don’t know how much longer I will play, but now the end of my volleyball life is getting closer. Maybe that’s why I feel more grateful. It reminds me of the difficult times in the past. These days, I feel like I should be more grateful and play volleyball.
Q. As the number of championships increases, it seems that the earnestness for winning or the sense of accomplishment that winning gives you may become a little dull, but I don’t think you have ever shown that. You changed the introduction phrase on social media to ‘Let’s go to five stars’ immediately after winning the championship. Are you still hungry for victory?
I always think after winning, I think about the next one. In the first place, our team’s goal was to be the first to win 4 consecutive championships. I think I have paved the way to achieve that goal with 3 consecutive victories now. I think we still have the last puzzle left. We have to challenge for the first 4 consecutive championships. Although it seems like I talk too much about the first time (laughs).
STEP 2. Stories of people who have been with Han
Q. From now on, let’s talk about the people who won four championships with Han. First, let’s talk about the directors. In a word, what kind of person is coach Park Ki-won, who won the first championship together?
Coach Park Ki-won yells a lot in front, but behind the scenes he thinks really deeply for his players. The great part is that despite his age he gets along well with the players. He recently said that he was going to Thailand, so he contacted me to go and take care of his health and cheer up.
Q. Coach Roberto Santili, who won the 2020-2021 season, was always a hot topic with his fiery temper and hot reactions. As a player who played the season together, I wonder what kind of manager and person Santili was.
Coach Santili is a fiery person when it comes to volleyball. But when he gets off the court, he just feels like a friendly grandfather (laughs). There were times when I got angry or acted too much during the match, but I think those are situations that can always come out in a match. Of course, he becomes toxic when there are too many of them. He thinks that the coaching staff, rather than the players, should take care of it (laughs).
Q. The 2021-2022 season and the 2022-2023 season were jointly won with coach Tommy Tillikainen. Since his first appointment, the fact that coach Tilly Kainen is younger than himself has been a hot topic of discussion. How were the two seasons he had with a coach younger than himself?
He’s not much different. I’ve done it with someone very old, and I’ve done it with someone younger than me (laughs). As long as you play your role well in your position and have the same goal, I don’t think age matters at all.
Q. Tillikainen’s volleyball has a quick counterattack and a small gap between starters and non-starters. What do you think is the reason why coach Tillikainen’s volleyball can have such strengths?
I think it’s always an attitude of research and effort. I really don’t rest. I always watch volleyball. He’s completely into volleyball. I really appreciate the effort. (Is it a bit of a ‘no jam’ style in everyday life?) When talking about volleyball, I talk a lot, but other than that, I’m really quiet (laughs).
Q. Actually, there are not a few opportunities to talk about the coach, but there are not many opportunities to talk about the coaches. What kind of coaches are coaches Jang Gwang-kyun and Choi Bu-sik to the players?
Both of them are coaches who played together at Korean Air. That’s why they talk a lot with the players and try to make them feel more comfortable. Beyond a simple coach, I think of him as a colleague who continues to work out together. (During the interview, Han made a joke to coach Jang Gwang-kyun, who briefly visited the interview site, saying, “It’s vacation time, so I guess I came here to show off my work.”) Q. You should also talk about the players you worked with
. Jung Ji-seok, Kwak Seung-seok, and Jung Sung-min are players who have won all four championships with Korean Air. Literally, it seems to be a relationship where you can connect just by looking at your eyes. How was the chemistry with the three players in the championship match?
They are players who always know what to do with each other. All of them are good at volleyball, so I think I’m just focusing on making sure these players don’t shake mentally. They know how to play volleyball well. Not only the three players, but the attitude towards all the other players is similar. My most important role is to hold on to my mentality. (What are some typical ways to get mental?) It’s different for each player. There are times when I yell at them, and there are times when they comfort me saying that it is okay. Of course, the first thing is for me to work hard and be more active.
Q. When it comes to the people of one player, there is another player that cannot be left out. It is Kim Gyu-min, the best friend of the soul. He really likes bullying Kim Kyu-min (laughs), so why is it Kyu-min?
(Kim) Kyu-min? First of all, Kyu-min has to learn more about volleyball (laughs). I always say something, but you have to work really hard (laughs). Kyu-min has a fighting spirit and is a player who helps the team atmosphere a lot. But anyway, Kyu-min has to work harder (laughs).
Q. You’re teasing me again (laughs). But on the court, Kim Gyu-min is the most reliable middle blocker. Are there any memorable collaboration plays or conversations with Kyu-min during the three championships you won?
This season, there was a time when my breathing with Kyu-min was a bit shaky. Whenever that happened, we talked a lot. Fortunately, Kyu-min followed my story well, and towards the end of the season, we gained trust again, and I think we got along well. In the case of Kyu-min, if the game doesn’t turn out the way he wants, he’s the type to stop it himself. So I tend to push a little harder. (Among the types you mentioned earlier, you are the type that needs shouting.) Yes. It’s a style that requires a bit of shouting (laughs).
Q. In order to win the V-League, the performance of foreign players is also important. I wonder what kind of players are the three foreign players (Micha Gasparini, Yosbani Hernandez, and Lincoln Williams) who have won four championships together.
Gasparini has always been a loyal player. He is a player who tried to do everything with the players no matter how hard and tired he was. He was a player who worked really hard and did well without a single complaint. Yosubani was a player with a huge desire to win. Because even when he joined later in the season, he said, “I came because I wanted to win a championship.” That fighting spirit showed its strength in the championship match. I’ve been with Lincoln for the second season, and I think he’s a strong player for big games. He always showed good performances in the championship match. The will to do it has become stronger. I really like his personality too. He gets along well with the players too.
STEP 3. The story of the person who faced a player (opponent team players, coach)
Q. Now let’s talk a little bit about the people you faced against during your four championships. The opponent for the championship match in the 2017-2018 season was Hyundai Capital, and the opponent setter at the time was Noh Jae-wook. What kind of opponent was Hyundai Capital?
I often faced Hyundai Capital in the championship match. At that time, Hyundai Capital was also rising as a team, and I remember that we were also gradually rising as we played spring volleyball.
Q. At the time, Hyundai Capital’s ‘Youngseok Duo’ Shin Young-seok and Cha Young-seok kept the center. In particular, Shin Young-seok was and still is the best middle blocker in the league.
It is not that difficult to stop (Shin) Yeong-seok (laughs). (Analysis of Shin Young-seok has already been completed, is that what you mean?) When dealing with Young-seok, I tend to do my best to evade blocking. Anyway, it wasn’t too difficult (laughs).
Q. In the 2020-2021 season, we met against Woori Card. Ha Seung-woo, who was Woori Card’s setter at the time, played an active role in the series as a ‘game of life’ and pushed Korean Air to the edge. How did you feel when dealing with Woori Card at the time?
At that time, our card was really strong. There seemed to be no loopholes. I managed to persevere and persevere and win, but it was a really tough series. After that series, Woori Card faced a lot of changes, and it came to a time when it needed reorganization. After that, our card fell off the peak. Hyundai Capital after the 2017-2018 season was similar. It is important for a team facing change to quickly adapt to the change and reorganize the team to maintain solidity. I think we were able to maintain our place as a strong team because our team did better than Hyundai Capital or Woori Card before.
Q. Alexandre Ferheira, a foreign player of Woori Card at the time, was a demanding player both inside and outside the game (laughs). He even got into an altercation with the manager San Tillie. What are your memories of Alex?
He was a bit of a hot-tempered player. I’ve never been with him, but I do remember meeting him earlier than in the league when he was playing against Portugal in the national team. Back then he was more of a hot-tempered temperament. Rather, it seems that his personality died a lot in the league (laughs).
Q. In the 2021-2022 season, you clashed with KB Insurance, led by Keita Noumori, an all-time monster alien that is still talked about. How did you feel while blocking Keita?
At that time, Keita was a very good player. He hit them all by himself (laughs). I should have worked hard to block it, but there were many cases where I couldn’t defend properly. In the end, even at that time, I think I won by holding on to the end. Keita is a player who knows where the ball lands and hits it. He was really hard to deal with.
Q. At that time, in the 5th set of the 3rd match, Keita’s attack share was 100%. I wonder if this was the first time in his long career, but I think his brain might have been less complicated in terms of game management.
I wonder if KB Insurance didn’t make that choice in order to win. He trusted Keita. He was a player who showed his skills throughout the season. But as we continued to hold on, eventually Keita collapsed from exhaustion. I’d say it feels a bit cracked.
Q. Last season, you met Hyundai Capital in the 2017-2018 season again in the finals. How was Hyundai Capital different from the regular season in the championship game?
It felt better as a team than during the regular season. I felt like I was enjoying the game. (What was the reason why Jeon Kwang-in 안전놀이터felt better despite leaving due to an injury?) I don’t think Hyundai Capital felt much pressure. Physically it’s hard, but mentally you feel more comfortable going through the playoffs? I think it would have been more comfortable than our team who waited for first place. I guess I didn’t enjoy playing volleyball. (Was Korean Air in the same position in the 2017-2018 season?) I think it was. At that time, Hyundai Capital, who was waiting for you, must have been more burdened. We lost the first game then, but we were not shaken at all. I just felt like winning.
Q. To think that the last four championships were completed by beating all these great teams and players makes it even more great. How do you feel when you look back at the people you met?
The first thing that comes to my mind is that I need to work harder in the future. It makes me think more about being grateful for what I’m doing now,
BONUS. One player’s balance game
Q1. Which setter was the most difficult to deal with? 2017-2018 Noh Jae-wook VS 2020-2021 Ha Seung-woo VS 2021-2022 Hwang Taek-eui VS 2022-2023 Kim Myeong-gwan -> Um… (after thinking about it for quite a long time) (Ha) I think Seung-woo did the best. Of course, Woori Card was a very solid team, not only as a setter, but also as a team. Alex did a great job too. At that time, I couldn’t stop Alex… (laughs).
Q2. Which of the following people hates my nagging more? Kim Gyu-min VS Han Hyo-joo -> Oh, I hate both of them (laughs). But I think Kyu-min will hate it more (laughs).
Q3. Playing volleyball until the age of 50 (however, you must keep up with the current training intensity) VS Retire now -> The former. If you are in your current physical condition, you will be able to continue training. If you don’t get hurt, you won’t fall. It’s really important not to get hurt.
Q. It’s time to finish the interview. Lastly, as a human player rather than a volleyball player, I wonder how you want to be remembered by people around you.
These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to end my volleyball life. As a result of thinking about it, rather than thinking about how I should appear to the people around me, if I just do my best while being grateful for what I am doing right now, I wonder if the people around me will see it and naturally acknowledge it. I just want to play volleyball while dreaming of a finish where everyone can be happy.
Q. We will end the interview by saying thank you to everyone who has always supported Han and Korean Air!
Fans always believe in us and support us. Also, always worry about me. I think it was because the players and fans were of the same mind that we won the championship three times in a row. Thank you for always trusting us. Fans will already know that we were aiming for 4 consecutive championships. I hope you will cheer up while looking forward to the next season together!