South Korea eyeing a top-10 finish at Beijing

July 24th, 2008 - 4:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Zhang Han
Beijing, July 24 (Xinhua) South Korea is expecting a top-10 finish in the medals table at the forthcoming Beijing Games starting Aug 8. “Team South Korea will spare no efforts at Beijing Olympics and vie for a medal table position within the top ten,” Lee Yeon Taek, president of Korean Olympic Committee (KOC), told reporters.

South Koreans finished ninth four years ago in Athens with nine gold, 12 silver and nine bronze medals.

South Korea, which made its Olympic debut in London in 1948 and claimed the first gold 32 years ago in Montreal, was best placed the fourth in 1988 at home in Seoul when they fielded a 602-strong delegation to compete in 21 disciplines and collected 12 gold, 10 silver and 11 bronze.

This time, to compete in the Olympic Games in neighbouring China will also favour South Korea and the other East Asian nations besides the hosts.

The time difference between Beijing and Seoul is only one hour, and the weather and many other conditions, such as the temperature and humidity, as well as the dietary habits of the Koreans and Chinese, are quite similar.

Lee, also the chairman of the Korea Sports Council, has called up the countrymen to pay more public support and attention for the Olympians.

“Active public support would help to maximize the athletes’ performances in the Games,” said the KOC chief at a forum in downtown Seoul.

He also announced the KOC will award $50,000 gold medal winners, while silver medallists will receive $25,000 and those who win bronze will get $15,000.

“We have decided to raise the amount drastically because we are expecting intense competition from Chinese rivals,” said Choi Jong-hark, who takes charge of sporting affairs at the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Culture.

South Korea has earned berths in 25 sports with 267 athletes having qualified for the Olympics, as archery, weightlifting, judo and taekwondo are among the country’s traditional medal hopefuls and swimming might offer a breakthrough victory for the Koreans.

Teenage sensation Park Tae Hwan has emerged as a fast rising star in pool as the 18-year-old upset defending champion Grant Hackett to win the men’s 400m freestyle at last year’s world championships in Melbourne and has since set a new Asian record of three minutes and 43.59 seconds.

He will eye on beating Ian Thorpe’s world record of 3:40.08 set in 2002 for a Beijing Olympic victory and try to pocket the very first swimming gold for his country while swimming in the latest Speedo LZR swimsuit.

“I expect to see the winning time around three minutes and 40 seconds,” said Park’s coach Noh Min Sang. “It won’t go past the 41-second mark.”

In taekwondo, the sport they invented, Koreans are no doubt the favourites and will be spearheaded by Hwang Kyung Seon, two-time world champion in the women’s under-67kg.

However, the days have gone when Koreans won everything in taekwondo tournaments. Hosts China have posed serious challenge with twice Olympic champion Chen Zhong in the women’s over-67kg and world champion Wu Jingyu in the women’s 49 kg.

South Korea also faces similar threats in archery as well. Their archery team, which won three out of four gold medals in last year’s World Championships, lost to China in the women’s team final of the 2007 World Cup.

South Korea has won 14 of 22 archery golds on offer since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and will push hard in Beijing for golds of the team events as well as the women’s individual against daunting hosts Chinese, and the Italians and French.

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