The Most Famous

ATHLETES from South Korea

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This page contains a list of the greatest South Korean Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 6,025 Athletes, 42 of which were born in South Korea. This makes South Korea the birth place of the 27th most number of Athletes behind Ethiopia, and Greece.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary South Korean Athletes of all time. This list of famous South Korean Athletes is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of South Korean Athletes.

Photo of Nam Sung-yong

1. Nam Sung-yong (1912 - 2001)

With an HPI of 49.52, Nam Sung-yong is the most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages on wikipedia.

Nam Sung-yong (November 23, 1912 – February 20, 2001) was a Korean Olympian who won a bronze medal in the marathon at the 1936 Summer Olympics, completing the run in 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 42 seconds. He was born in Junten (Suncheon), Korea, Empire of Japan and received higher education in Japan. Like the gold medalist Sohn Kee-chung, Nam Sung-yong used the Japanese pronunciation of his name, Nan Shōryū as Korea was then a part of the Japanese Empire.After the Olympics, Nam Sung-yong worked at the Korean Sporting Association with Sohn Kee-chung.

Photo of Hwang Young-cho

2. Hwang Young-cho (b. 1970)

With an HPI of 41.32, Hwang Young-cho is the 2nd most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Hwang Young-cho (born 22 March 1970) is a former South Korean athlete, winner of the marathon race at the 1992 Summer Olympics and 1994 Asian Games.

Photo of Viktor An

3. Viktor An (b. 1985)

With an HPI of 41.15, Viktor An is the 3rd most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Viktor An (Russian: Виктор Ан; born Ahn Hyun-soo (Korean: 안현수) on November 23, 1985), is a South Korean-born Russian short-track speed skating coach and retired short-track speed skater. With a total of eight Olympic medals, six gold and two bronze, he is the only short track speed skater in Olympic history to win gold in every distance, and the first to win a medal in every distance at a single Games. He has the most Olympic gold medals in the sport, three of which he won in the 2006 Winter Olympics and the other three in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Considered to be the greatest short track speed skater of all time, he is a six-time overall World champion (2003-2007, 2014), two-time overall World Cup winner (2003–04, 2005–06), and the 2014 European champion. He holds the most overall titles at the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, and is the only male short track skater to win five consecutive world titles.In 2008, Ahn suffered a knee injury and could not regain his health by the time the national qualifiers for Vancouver 2010 came around. His recovery being slow and his South Korean local team dissolved in 2010, Ahn, aiming for his second Olympics, became a Russian citizen the next year and began racing for the Russian team. After winning gold in Sochi, Ahn explained his reasons for joining the Russian team saying, "I wanted to train in the best possible environment and I proved my decision was not wrong." As expected, a gold-winning athlete leaving the national team caused public uproar in South Korea. However, it was aimed not at Ahn, but at the country's skating union. Most South Korean fans in a poll said they understood his decision. Ahn continued his skating career in his adopted nation until 2019 and declared his retirement in April 2020.In 2023, Ahn returned to Korea as a short track leader. Ahn returned to South Korea and applied to be a coach for Seongnam City's short track speed skating team, despite having renounced his South Korean citizenship when becoming Russian. However, since his change in 2014 he had been increasingly criticized for his work in Russia amid the Russo-Ukrainian War and his coaching position in the Chinese team at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Some Korean coaches have formed The Korea Skating Coaches' Union and urged "Seongnam City to appoint a coach that meets the public eye level" and criticized Ahn that he "lied during the naturalization process and betrayed his country". and He was criticized by the public for betraying his country by transferring Korean sports skills to Russia and China. Ahn was eventually denied the coaching position due to significant public opposition.After being denied his position as Seongnam City Hall coach due to strong public opposition, Ahn explained the controversy he knew about his loss of nationality in advance and receives a full Olympic medal pension prior to Russian naturalization. he said: "I donated every pension I had received prior to naturalization". According to his explanation and a Korean ice skating official mentioned in Chosun Ilbo shortly thereafter, the entire lump sum pension he received was spent on rehabilitating "children who needed heart surgery and Korean junior players". And he make his first start as a Korean Sports leader, being named as a coach in the 2023-2024 national team trials at the request of his juniors. The Korea Skating Union officially announced this through Yonhap News Agency, and the Korean media reported it collectively.

Photo of Kim Young-ho

4. Kim Young-ho (b. 1971)

With an HPI of 38.69, Kim Young-ho is the 4th most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Kim Young-ho (born April 9, 1971 in Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea) is a South Korean foil fencer. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he won the gold medal in individual foil, defeating Ralf Bissdorf of Germany in the final. He became the first Olympic Champion in fencing from Korea, and the first Asian man to win an Olympic Gold medal in fencing. At the 1997 World Championships he had perhaps one of the most heroic losses in top level fencing. With approximately 2 minutes left in the final period, Kim was down 11-3 to Sergei Golubitsky of Ukraine. As direct elimination fencing bouts go to 15 touches, most fencers would presume Kim was about done and was fencing for pride. 8 touches later Kim had tied the score. He and Golubitsky (as Sergei stated on his "Golden Bouts" tape, "and now the nightmare begins....the comeback of Kim") traded touches until Kim finally lost 15–14. At la belle (tied for the last touch, 14-14), Kim almost pulled the win out, but his attack failed to register (although he had struck valid target) and Golubitsky dodged a bullet, allowing him the chance to win the bout.

Photo of Shin Joon-sup

5. Shin Joon-sup (b. 1963)

With an HPI of 37.57, Shin Joon-sup is the 5th most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Shin Joon-Sup (Korean: 신준섭; Hanja: 申俊燮; RR: Sin Jun-seob, born June 17, 1963, in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea) is a former South Korean middleweight amateur boxer and Olympic Gold Medalist.

Photo of Kim Ki-hoon

6. Kim Ki-hoon (b. 1967)

With an HPI of 37.16, Kim Ki-hoon is the 6th most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Kim Ki-hoon (born July 14, 1967) is a retired short-track speed skater and the first gold medalist in the Winter Olympics for South Korea. Kim is a three-time Olympic Champion and 1992 Overall World Champion.

Photo of Jin Jong-oh

7. Jin Jong-oh (b. 1979)

With an HPI of 36.87, Jin Jong-oh is the 7th most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 27 different languages.

Jin Jong-oh (Korean: 진종오; Korean pronunciation: [tɕin.dʑoŋ.o]; born 24 September 1979) is a South Korean sports shooter who competed at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. The only individual four-time Olympic champion in shooting, he is the most successful individual shooter at the Olympics, being the only athlete to have won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in an event (men's 50 metre pistol) in shooting. He holds the world record in both 10 metre air pistol and 50 metre pistol and held the final world record in 50 metre pistol until Jitu Rai broke it in 2017.

Photo of Kim Soo-nyung

8. Kim Soo-nyung (b. 1971)

With an HPI of 36.67, Kim Soo-nyung is the 8th most famous South Korean Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Kim Soo-nyung (born April 5, 1971, in Chungcheongbuk-do) is a former member of the South Korean Olympic archery team in 1988, 1992, and 2000. She has earned a total of four gold medals at the Olympics, one for the individual event in 1988 and three for the team event in 1988, 1992 and 2000. She won a further silver medal in 1992 and a bronze in 2000, both for the individual events. She retired after the 1992 Olympics to marry and raise two children, resuming her training in 1999, in the lead up to the 2000 Summer Olympics.She competed at the 1990 Asian Games winning a gold medal in the team event and a bronze in the individual. She also won two consecutive individual and team world championships in 1989 and 1991.In 2011, Kim was declared the Female Archer of the 20th Century by the International Archery Federation (FITA).

Photo of Dong Hyun Kim

9. Dong Hyun Kim (b. 1981)

With an HPI of 35.89, Dong Hyun Kim is the 9th most famous South Korean Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Kim Dong-hyun (Korean: 김동현; born November 17, 1981), anglicized as Dong Hyun Kim, is a retired South Korean mixed martial artist who most notably fought in the UFC's welterweight division. He was signed by the UFC after fighting in the Japanese promotion DEEP and in the South Korean promotion Spirit MC. Kim is also prominent as a regular cast member in variety shows Master in the House, DoReMi Market, The Return of Superman, and Strong Heart.

Photo of Gil Young-ah

10. Gil Young-ah (b. 1970)

With an HPI of 35.65, Gil Young-ah is the 10th most famous South Korean Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Gil Young-ah (Korean: 길영아; born April 11, 1970) is a South Korean former female badminton player. She was born in Ansan.At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, she won the bronze medal in the women's doubles together with Shim Eun-jung. Four years later, at the Atlanta Olympics, she won the gold medal in the mixed doubles together with Kim Dong-moon and the silver medal in the women's doubles together with Jang Hye-ock. Gil retired from badminton after the 1996 Olympics and became an assistant coach of the Samsung Electro-Mechanics badminton team. In 2011, Gil became the first woman to be appointed head coach of a professional team in Korea. She was made Head Coach of the Samsung Electromechanics Women's Badminton Team. When Kim Moon-soo vacated his post as head of the men's team in late 2015, Gil was made Head Coach of the combined team.Gil has two children who are active elite badminton players. Her son Kim Won-ho is on the national team and her daughter Kim Ah-young plays for an elite high school team in Gyeonggi-do.

People

Pantheon has 53 people classified as South Korean athletes born between 1912 and 2004. Of these 53, 52 (98.11%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living South Korean athletes include Hwang Young-cho, Viktor An, and Kim Young-ho. The most famous deceased South Korean athletes include Nam Sung-yong. As of April 2024, 11 new South Korean athletes have been added to Pantheon including Dong Hyun Kim, Chae Ji-hoon, and Kim Kyung-wook.

Living South Korean Athletes

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Deceased South Korean Athletes

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Newly Added South Korean Athletes (2024)

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