Korean national athletes for the 2012 London Olympic Games take part in a training session at the Taeneung Athlete’s Village in Seoul on Dec. 21. (Ahn Hoon / The Korea Herald)
One of the biggest events on the 2012 sports calendar is the Summer Olympics, which will run from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London.
Hopes are high for Korea after it finished seventh in Beijing in 2008 with 13 gold medals. Korea is aiming for 13 gold medals in London to finish within the top ten again. With the games just months away, the country’s biggest sporting stars are making their final pitches, looking for career-defining performances on the biggest stage. Here are some of the top athletes to watch.―Ed.
Swimming champion Park Tae-hwan is one of the finest discoveries for Korean sports in the past decade. In 2007, Park became the first Korean swimmer to win a medal at the World Championships and the first Asian to win a gold in the 400-meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The freestyle specialist, however, had a disappointing campaign at the World Championship in 2009, failing to make it into the finals in any race. Having teamed up with Australian coach Michael Bohl, however, Park finished strong at the 2010 Asian Games with three gold medals.
In 2011, he successfully retained his 400m freestyle title at the Shanghai World Championships, proving that his wins at the 2007 Worlds and 2008 Olympics were not the end of his dominance.
The 22-year-old clocked 3 minutes 42.04 seconds to win the gold medal of the event, beating Chinese rivals Sun Yang who finished second with 3:43:24.
In December, Park won the 400m freestyle and also the 1,500m race at an Australian competition, raising expectations for the 2012 Olympics. He told the reporters Wednesday that his aim for the London 2012 is not just winning the medal but setting a new world record. Park is currently having a short break in Korea, but is scheduled to come back to his training camp in Australia on Jan. 4.
A little more than 10 years ago, Jang Mi-ran made a life decision: becoming a successful Olympian. The then-teenager opted to become a national weightlifter. And for the past decade, the 170 cm-tall athlete, who can lift more than 180 kg above her head, has dominated the sport with more than 10 medals, which including the 2004 Athens silver medal and 2008 Beijing gold.
Notably at the 2008 Olympics, she won the gold in the over 75 kilogram category with a new world record by lifting 140kg in the snatch and 186kg in the clean and jerk.
After winning her first World Weightlifting Championships in 2005, Jang kept the title under her belt for four consecutive years until taking home the bronze in 2010.
In 2009, she was named the best female weightlifter by the International Weightlifting Federation.
Jang also won the gold medal in the over 75kg class, lifting a combined 311kg at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010.
This year the hard-working weightlifter made history again by becoming the first athlete to have won the national championships nine times in a row.
The 28-year-old Jang is now eying another Olympic gold medal in London. Asked about her preparations for the London 2012, Jang said her aim is to inspire future Olympians.
“People say they are thrilled watching me trying to lift the barbell. I hope to give them pleasure again, and to encourage young athletes,” she said.
Korean badminton star Lee Yong-dae already has a gold medal to his name but has his sights set on more success at London 2012.
Lee won the Beijing Olympics gold in mixed doubles with Lee Hyo-jung, 30, who announced her retirement in 2010. Since then, Lee has been focusing on competing in men’s doubles. Lee will compete in the London 2012 Games with his long-term partner Jung Jae-sung in men’s doubles.
The 23-year-old, who joined the national team at age 15, first teamed up with Jung in 2004 for the French Open, where the pair reached the semi-finals.
In 2006, Lee and Jung won a bronze medal at the Asian Games. Four years later, the pair returned to the Asiad, hoping to win the gold in Guangzhou, China, only to settle with another bronze. Despite some hiccups earlier this year, Lee has finished the 2011 season on a high note.
Lee and his partner Jung won the men’s double title in Denmark in October. The two had another impressive run at the French Open beating the world No. 1 pair Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng for the title.
“I understand anyone can win two badminton gold medals in a row, but I’m hoping to become the one,” Lee said in a recent interview.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)