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Former national treasure pitcher Sun Dong-yeol (60), who made a surprise appearance as the final torchbearer at the opening ceremony of the 104th National Sports Games, said he was “honoured to participate in something meaningful in my hometown.”

“It’s meaningful to have a national championship in my hometown,” he told Yonhap News Agency after the opening ceremony of the Jeonnam National Games at the Mokpo Sports Complex in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, on Wednesday, “and I’m glad to be a part of such an honourable occasion.”

“I also thought, ‘Can I do this,’ as I participated as the final torchbearer among young people,” Sun said, adding, “I am grateful to the organising committee for the invitation.”

Sun was the third torchbearer at the end of the opening ceremony, following boxer Lim Ye-ji from the Hwasun County Government, researcher Lee Tae-jin from the Narrows Centre, and youth farmer Seo Soo-soo.

The crowd cheered loudly as Sun made his appearance.

He passed the torch to Jeonnam Cheongdo High School athlete Bae Geon-yul, and the five final torchbearers crossed the stone bridge and stood at a large sculpture inscribed with the words “Jeonnam, the Land of Life 2023”.

The five then lit the flame together, and coach Sun Dong-yeol smiled brightly at the cheering crowd.

Sun Dong-yeol is a pitcher who needs no introduction.

A graduate of Gwangju Musyung Middle School and Gwangju First High School, Sun went on to play at Korea University before making a name for himself as a pitcher in Korean baseball with his hometown team, the Hattae Tigers (now KIA).

After a stint with the Junichi Dragons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, Sun began his coaching career with the Samsung Lions of the KBO.

After coaching at KIA from 2012 to 2014, Sun said goodbye to the field in 2018 as the national team manager.

When asked about his return to the field, Sun chuckled, saying, “I think my health has improved because I’m not stressed these days.”

Under the banner of ‘Let’s fly together in Jeonnam, the land of life, Korea’, more than 29,900 athletes, including 28,000 athletes from 17 provinces across the country and more than 1,500 athletes from overseas Korean sports organisations in 18 countries, are participating in the Games, the largest ever.

Athletes competing in 49 sports (47 official and two demonstration) will share friendship and goodwill competition at 70 venues in 22 cities and counties of Jeollanam-do. 파워볼분석

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