"It seems there are more cameras than spectators," said an official from the boxing federation as he looked across the Andong Gymnasium in North Gyeongsang Province on Tuesday where the National Amateur Boxing Championships were held. The reason they were all there was the actress Lee Si-young, who is riding a crest of popularity after appearing in TV soaps "Boys Over Flowers" and "The Birth of the Rich."
The 29-year-old actress is known for her unusual hobbies, which include collecting action figures from Japanese robot anime "Gundam" and ardently supporting Liverpool in the English Premier League.
Now she has found a new hobby: boxing. She started practicing with Hong Soo-hwan, a former WBA bantamweight and super bantamweight champion, early last year for her part in a TV drama. Lee's management agency said in September last year she reduced her body fat from 9.9 kg to 4.7 kg through boxing.
Although the drama was cancelled she did not stop boxing but trained harder, and now she is a real boxer. In December last year, Lee won the women's 50 kg category in the KBI National Lifestyle Athletics Boxing Championship, and last month the 48-kg category in the Seoul Amateur Boxing Match.
Lee's passion for boxing is causing her agency some anxiety. "For an actress, the face is the key to success, and we're worried that she'll get injured," a staffer said.
"But no matter how hard we try to dissuade her, she doesn't want to quit." Even Hong was against her competing in the National Amateur Boxing Championships because it clashes with the promotion schedule for her latest film "Dangerous Meeting," which will hit the screen on March 31. But again Lee did not back down, training two hours a day for the competition.
She travelled to Andong for the weigh-in Sunday and went straight back to Seoul to attend a film preview. Then she returned to Andong the next day to prepare for the match.
Hong said, "Lee has a great body for a boxer in the 48-kg category, and she is a gritty fighter. If she trains full-time, it's not impossible that she will compete in the 2012 London Olympics." Women's boxing will debut as an official Olympic sport at the London Olympics.
When the match finished, Lee punched the air. She had won by decision with a score of 13-7. "I feel so good," she said. "I'll do my best to win tomorrow."
Soon after she left for Seoul again to promote the film. The final match is on Thursday.