Taeyoong Kim, one of the most beloved members of the XTERRA worldwide family and the 2007 winner of the XTERRA Warrior award, was pre-riding the XTERRA Japan Championship bike course in the remote Nikko National Forest in the Gunma Prefecture on Thursday when he inadvertently rode between a mama black bear and her cubs.
“Kim-san was ahead of me and after a few small turns I couldn’t see him but suddenly I hear his voice, “oh!!!!!!,” explained three-time XTERRA Japan Champion Mieko Carey who was riding with Kim.
“I thought maybe there was a big drop there or something, but then I saw the black bear maybe six-feet from Kim charge and attack him from the left side. Both of them went into the bushes to the right and Kim kept screaming. I couldn't see, but could hear, and at the same time a baby bear came from the left in front of me and climbed up a tree.”
XTERRA President Janet Clark is in Japan and was fascinated by the accounts from Carey and Kim.
“The bear knocked him into a bush, and Kim said he threw his bike at her. His description of what he said and what the bear said is funny in person - they sound identical,” said Clark. "Arrrrrrrgh"!”
Carey added, “I just felt frozen, I didn’t know what to do. I just kept calling his name ‘Kim-san!’, ‘Kim-san!”. And then, fortunately, he came out from the bush and ran to me and both of us ran up to the road with our bikes. The bear ran away too. I went down to the bottom of the hill fast to get help. Kim was clawed and bitten badly on his leg and his arm.”
Kim was taken to the hospital where his wounds were tended to. He was back in time for dinner at the Kan Ko So Resort (pictured) just a few hours later with a story that has all the makings of a legendary tale.
In the meantime organizers were on the course setting off fireworks to scare the bears away. They’ll go around again before the start of the race on Saturday, and have instructed racers to use bells and/or horns on their bikes.
“The safety of the competitors is the number one concern here and Taro (Shirato) and property manager Kawata-san are doing everything they can to keep the race on track and get bears out of the area,” said Clark.
The story brought national attention to XTERRA Japan as media outlets picked up on police reports of the incident. Pictures of Kim-san, bandaged up but smiling with claw marks clearly etched into the top of his thigh, have caused quite a stir on social media outlets.
“2007 XTERRA Warrior Kim-san proved today he is indeed a warrior and is rapidly on his way to "Legend" after experiencing the wrath of a Mama Bear who was protecting her cubs," posted Clark on XTERRA's Facebook page. "He's now sporting a collection of claw and bite marks and a story that will go down in XTERRA history.”
“I still feel like it was a dream,” added Carey. “I’m so glad he is OK. Now, that was real XTERRA!”
Friends from around the world have been checking in on Kim-san, who said simply, "Don't worry, I'm a Warrior : )"
Indeed. An XTERRA Warrior...now a Bear Warrior.
And the race...
Last year’s XTERRA Japan Championship runner-up “Mr. XTERRA” Will Kelsay will look for his first-ever overall XTERRA Championship victory on Saturday, with strong competition from mountain biking phenom Cedric Lassonde from France, and local favorite Takahiro Ogasawara. Kelsay will is sporting the No. 1 bike plate for the first-time at a Championship race, and hoping he can earn it with his performance on the course.
In the women's elite race 2010 XTERRA World Champ Shonny Vanlandingham will look to steal the title from three-time Japan champ – and bear story survivor – Mieko Carey from Saipan.
Past XTERRA Japan Champions
Year Men Women
2011 Conrad Stoltz Mieko Carey
2010 Ian Leitch Mieko Carey
2009 Sam Gardner Mieko Carey
2008 Sam Gardner Renata Bucher
2007 Nico Pfitzenmaier Jamie Whitmore
2006 Yasuo Takahashi Jamie Whitmore
2005 Yu Yumoto Jamie Whitmore
2004 Hideo Fukui Jamie Whitmore