Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

South Korean gold gymnast vaults from rags to riches

By KJ Kwon and Alexis Lai, CNN
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Thu August 9, 2012
South Korean gymnast Yang Hak-seon competes in the Olympics men's vault final on Monday.
South Korean gymnast Yang Hak-seon competes in the Olympics men's vault final on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yang Hak-seon won South Korea's first ever Olympics gymnastics gold medal Monday
  • Reports of Yang's makeshift polytunnel home emerged after gold medal win
  • Yang now flooded with corporate gifts, including money, noodles, and an apartment
  • Yang also received US$88,800 from Korea Gymnastic Association

(CNN) -- An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped 500 million won (US$444,000) in the latest donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.

For several years, Yang Hak-seon, who won South Korea's first ever Olympics gymnastics gold medal Monday, has been living with his parents in a small polytunnel in a rural area of Jeolla province, 200 kilometers southwest of the capital.

Covered with thin wooden boards and plastic sheeting, the makeshift structure was nearly swept away during heavy rains two years ago, according to South Korean media.

Why do Olympians bite their medals?

As Yang's financial plight has come to light following his Olympic win in the men's vault final, companies have been rushing to provide for the newly-minted star.

Behind the scenes of CNN's Olympic bureau
South Korea's archery ambitions
All pinned up at the London Games
Training to become a Games athlete
Athlete's diet: Eating like an Olympian

The latest donation of 500 million won (US$444,000) comes from the chairman of LG Group, Koo Bon Moo, who announced Thursday that the gift was intended to help Yang put aside financial worries and focus on his training.

Yang, who said after his victory that he wanted to build a house for his family, will also have this wish come true, according to local media.

The CEO of construction company Samla Group, announced earlier this week that he will build the athlete an apartment valued at US$190,000. Yang and his family will able to move into the apartment by the end of next year, Oh Woo-hyun said.

Nongshim, the manufacturer of Yang's favorite instant noodles, has also said it will provide his family with "limitless amount of instant noodles," according to a press statement.

And if Yang's needs are not covered by corporate donations, he can use the 100 million won (US$88,800) personally donated to him by the head of the Korea Gymnastic Association.

Few were aware of Yang's dire financial situation until the London Olympics, including his own coach.

He only knew Yang as a young man with a natural gift for gymnastics, Cho Sung-doe told CNN in a phone interview.

Cycling's glamor girl ponders next career move

Yang's story emerged only after his gold medal win.

Yang and his family had been living in the polytunnel since his father lost his factory job due to injury several years ago, according to South Korean media reports.

Since then, he has been supporting the family with his modest income from the Korea Gymnastic Association, supplementing the small wage his father earns for working part-time as a farmer, reports said.

According to his Olympic profile, Yang started training in gymnastics at the age of nine. As a teenager he emerged as a contender in international competitions when he placed first in the vault event at the 2010 Asian Games.

Performing his signature move, a triple-twisting front somersault, at the London Games, the 20-year-old talent recorded an average score of 16.533 in the men's vault final, pushing his closest rivals from Russia and Ukraine to second and third place.

Yang first performed his winning somersault at the 2011 World Championships, where he took first place. The move has since been named "the Yang."

Complete coverage: Olympics 2012

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
updated 11:34 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
updated 5:44 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
updated 3:38 AM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
updated 11:05 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Sat August 11, 2012
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
updated 8:40 PM EDT, Thu August 9, 2012
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
updated 8:46 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
updated 3:30 PM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue August 7, 2012
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Sat August 4, 2012
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT