IM Ae-ji recently sealed her place at Tokyo 2020 by securing bronze at the Asia/Oceania Olympic boxing qualifying tournament in Amman, Jordan. In doing so, she became the first female South Korean boxer to have ever qualified for an Olympic Games.
Yet even before qualification, Im was considered a boxing prodigy in South Korea. When she was 17, she became a national youth champion in three weight classes having had just three years of training.
In 2017, during her last year at high school, Im stunned the country: on her international debut she became the first female Youth Boxing Champion for South Korea. Even though she was considered one of the best talents in women’s boxing, her record-breaking achievement still came as a surprise.
Her meteoric rise to stardom is even more impressive considering the young prodigy was struggling with an injury throughout the competition.
Im was unaware of an underlying shin injury that occurred before the tournament began. She felt just a little pain on her left leg in training and initially brushed it off as muscle pain. Yet as the tournament got underway, Im was so focused on each match and every opponent that the severity of her injury only became apparent after the medal ceremony.
Once the championship had ended, Im met with her physio who examined her injury on her left leg. It transpired that had they met prior to the tournament, she would have been discouraged from participating. However unaware of the seriousness, she carried on and made history.
Next year, Im is aiming to spring another surprise, but at senior level.
Q: You’ve recently qualified for Tokyo 2020 and will become the first South Korean female boxer to compete at an Olympic Games. What are your thoughts?
IM: It’s like a dream come true. I still can’t believe it’s true.
Q: How did you feel about the postponement of the Games, which happened just after you qualified?
IM: I think there’s a huge opportunity for me to practise more because I was not 100% convinced in myself that I would win a medal at the Olympics.
Q: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asia-Oceania qualifier was postponed. How did you manage your run of form during that period?
IM: Due to the postponement I had to continue training for one more month. It made me feel exhausted. But on the other side, an extra month gave me time to treat my minor injuries. I tried to be as relaxed as possible and think positively about the postponement of the qualifier schedule.
Q: Do you think the postponement could be helpful to prepare you for the Olympics?
IM: I should take advantage of one more year of time to make up for my weaknesses. At the qualification, I could see how other great players play to defeat opponents.
Q: As you mentioned, you have one more year before the Games. What is your plan for Tokyo 2020?
IM: My focus is to improve my strength with weight training and try to use my front hand in various ways. After this bout [the Asia-Oceania qualifier] what I felt most was ‘I need to make the most of my speed’. By utilising my strength, which is speed and steps, I’ll become a woman of steel!
Q: When did you start to box seriously?
IM: When I was a middle school student, I initially boxed just for fun. One day my mother told me that I’d better stop unless I want to be a professional. I decided to continue boxing because I just want to do more. So now I’m here!
Q: You won your first international title at your first tournament. Did you initially aim to win the title?
IM: No! I could do it because I had no pressure. As it was my first international competition, I just tried to focus on a single fight of the day.
Q: You also had an injury at the same time?
IM: I didn’t know where I was injured before the tournament. After coming back to Korea, I went to see my physio and I was told that I had a crack on the shin. After hearing that, it was really painful. I think I couldn’t’ have made it if I knew my injury before the tournament.
Q: Do you think your defeat at the Quarter-Finals at the 2018 Asian Games was affected by the injury of 2017?
IM: It was not the injury but my lack of training. This defeat led me to train harder for better performances.
Q: After the Asian Games, you won a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 qualification. What was your focus when you trained for the tournament?
IM: As I was defeated against a southpaw at the Asian games, fighting against them was my priority. Thanks to the drill, I am now confident when I box against a southpaw in Tokyo.
Q: What is your ultimate goal in your career?
IM: To retire with no injury. I don’t want to quit because of injuries - I want to be fully prepared to challenge for a new career when I decide to quit boxing.