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South Korean gold gymnast vaults from rags to riches

By KJ Kwon and Alexis Lai, CNN
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
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.
  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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