Assault charges lead to 10-year ban for former Olympic weightlifting champion

January 4, 2016
sa jae-hyuk

The Korea Weightlifting Federation (KWF) came down hard on Sa Jae-hyuk for allegedly punching another weightlifter. (Yonhap)

CHUNCHEON/SEOUL (Yonhap) — Former Olympic weightlifting champion Sa Jae-hyouk received a 10-year suspension from the sport’s national federation on Monday over assault charges.

The Korea Weightlifting Federation (KWF) handed down the penalty on a unanimous decision by its seven-member athletes’ committee, a day after Sa was questioned by police in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, over allegations that he’d punched fellow weightlifter, Hwang Woo-man, in the face on New Year’s Eve.

The suspension effectively spells the end of a roller-coaster career for Sa, who turns 31 later this month. He was the gold medalist in the men’s 77kg class at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He suffered a dislocated elbow in his title defense in London in 2012, but he was back by the following year. Though he hasn’t been nearly as effective after moving up a weight class in 2014, Sa has remained one of the biggest names in South Korean weightlifting and was seeking a chance at redemption at this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sa has two weeks to appeal the suspension, in which case the KWF will convene another meeting to review its ruling. If Sa chooses not to appeal, the ban will stand.

One KWF official said the athletes’ committee decided against a lifetime ban, considering Sa’s contribution to South Korean weightlifting, but said a 10-year ban amounts to forced retirement for the lifter.

Earlier Monday, Chuncheon police said they had interrogated Sa for about two hours Sunday evening over assault allegations.

Hwang, 21, was initially hospitalized in Chuncheon with an injury to his cheekbone and has since been transferred to another hospital in Seoul for an operation. He has alleged that Sa hit him during a night out together at a Chuncheon bar around 11 p.m. on Dec. 31, and that he will require up to six weeks to heal.

According to police, Sa testified that he met Hwang to clear up some misunderstanding over an incident last February, in which Sa slapped the younger lifter in the face, and that he became outraged while talking with Hwang and “accidentally” hit him.

In response to Sa’s claims, Hwang said Sa didn’t show any intention to clear the air between them. According to Hwang, Sa was angry that Hwang had been telling others about their February incident and told the younger lifter that he was being ungrateful for what senior teammates had done for him.

Hwang also said others present at the bar on New Year’s Eve invited him without Sa’s knowledge.

Sa visited Hwang in the Chuncheon hospital each of the past three days to apologize, but Hwang and his family have questioned Sa’s sincerity and have not agreed to settle with him.