It took 101 days, six modes of transportation (plane, train, automobile, Korean warship, zipline, and even robot), and 8,005 torchbearers to transport the Olympic torch from Athens to Pyeongchang in time for the 2018 Winter Games. This year, one of the lucky few chosen to bear the torch was Min Jae Yoo (W ’18).
After freshman year, Min Jae, who is originally from Korea but moved to the United States in middle school, took two years off to complete the mandatory military service required by South Korea. Upon his return to school in the fall of 2015, he was encouraged by his Korea Lacrosse teammates to try out for Penn’s varsity team.
“I was like, there's no way I can make the team. It's a D1 sport, and even the walk–ons are the cream of the crop from high school,” said Min Jae. Despite his initial hesitation, Min Jae contacted the coach of the Penn men’s lacrosse program, who ended up welcoming him onto the team. Not only was he able to practice and train with some of the best student athletes in the league, Min Jae experienced being a member of a tightly–knit team.
Min Jae explained that since many players for Korea Lacrosse only practice together for a few months out of the year, members of the team aren’t very close. The Penn Men’s Lacrosse program, however, dates back to 1900. “They have these founding stones, and these goals to live up to,” said Min Jae, citing examples of the team culture. “It helps teammates to be be best friends on campus... I tried to carry that over to Korea Lacrosse.”
In the fall of 2017, the organizing committee for the 2018 Olympic Games contacted Korea Lacrosse with the opportunity to be represented in the torch relay. Due to his in–depth athletic and administrative involvement with the team, Min Jae’s teammates selected him to be the torchbearer.
The Olympic flame has always been a sacramental part of the games, originally symbolizing the theft of fire from Zeus by Prometheus before it was given to the human race. As is the case with most Olympic traditions, the ritual of the flame has been heavily modernized since the games were held in 776 BC Olympia.
Traditionally, a stationary flame located in Olympia, Greece was kindled for every Olympics by concentrating the sun’s rays on a parabolic mirror. For three minutes on January 31st, Min Jae Yoo participated in a modern manifestation of an ancient tradition — one so old that it dates back to before the first millennium.
“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, right? I was excited, because it’s an honor. You never know when the Olympics are going to be held in your home country,” said Min Jae.
Min Jae spent two weeks in Korea leading up to the day when he carried the torch in the Korean region of Hoengseong County. On Jan. 31, Min Jae was shuttled through a whirlwind of trainings, took photographs, and got to know the locals. “Before I knew it, the previous person was right behind me,” said Min Jae.
While slightly disappointed that he had to return to Penn before the Olympics began, the distance allowed Min Jae to fully appreciate the part he played in Olympic history.
“In the moment, I was thinking more about how to better promote Korea Lacrosse through this exciting opportunity,” said Min Jae. It wasn’t until after the relay that he realized how much the honor meant to himself, his friends, and family.