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   28 May, 2002 | 1550 IST


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S Korea to show off boy wonder

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Park Sung-woo

As South Korea complete their preparations for the 2002 World Cup, the tournament co-hosts are banking on future magic from a 12-year-old dribbling phenomenon called "Thunder" Kim.

The schoolboy from the south-western city of Kwangju who dreams of becoming South Korea's Ronaldo has been to more than 50 overseas tournaments to show off his amazing ball-juggling skills.

"Thunder" Kim Cheon-doong's dazzling dribbling will get its biggest audience at halftime shows during the May 31-June 30 World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.

"My record for dribbling so far is 10,700 times without even a second's pause in one performance," Kim said.

Kim first received international recognition when he was eight years old with a head-turning performance at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.

That show led to his appointment by soccer's world governing body FIFA as a special ambassador to promote the 2002 World Cup, which starts in South Korea on May 31 and ends in Japan on June 30.

Demand for the diminutive dribbler was so heavy that Kim's father, Kim Sung-bum, quit his job to start a travel agency which serves the South Korean World Cup organising committee and manages his son's career.

"When he was just 15 months old, I brought him to a company soccer game. He got a ball by chance and, surprisingly, played with it unexpectedly well for his age," Kim senior said.

From the moment he discovered Kim's talent, he planned to send his son to France or Spain to hone his skills.

"Thunder has about 40 soccer balls with signatures of top players and officials including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Pele," Kim Sung-bum said. "A ranking official at FIFA called him little Kaiser."

At a recent children's bare foot walkathon in Seoul, scores of young fans flocked around Kim seeking his autograph.

"I really like him because he is so good at playing soccer," said a 10-year-old, waving Thunder Kim's signature on his palm.

"I have many soccer heroes, especially Ronaldo," the young Kim said, referring to the Brazilian striker. "I'm so happy that I can see them play in my country."

Kim, who seems destined to play for his country, wants to start his professional career in his own country.

"I want to become a soccer player in the future and to play first in South Korea," said Thunder Kim, who already plays for his school team.

During his spare time Kim goes to a language school to learn English so he can communicate with some of the players he expects to meet during World Cup matches in which he will go through his repertoire at halftime.

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