For South Korean taekwondo fighters, meeting expectations at the Olympics is always a tall order.
Taekwondo is, after all, the country’s traditional martial art. A medal of any color other than gold is regarded as a disappointment.
And disappointing was South Korea’s performance at last year’s world championships, held on its home soil in Gyeongju, 370 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The host earned three gold medals, tied with Iran, and only one better than three other countries.
Four athletes settled for silver.
But the quartet of fighters entered at this year’s Olympics said it will be a different story in London.
|The Korean national taekwondo team is looking to keep its dominance in the Olympics. (Yonhap News)|
At the media event at the National Training Center, Cha Dong-min, the reigning Olympic champion in men’s over-80-kilogram, said he has tried to retain the good vibes from the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I’ve tried to maintain the same routine and the same preparation from four years ago,” the 21-year-old said. “I am feeling great now. But I have to spend 15 days or so in London before our competition starts. That’s when the real test and preparation begin.”
Since the traditional Korean martial art became a medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, South Korea has won nine gold medals and 12 total medals, more than any other nation.
There are eight weight divisions each for men and women. Each nation is permitted a maximum of four fighters each, two for each gender. That is to prevent a dominant country like South Korea from sweeping up multiple medals.
Cha was part of the Beijing delegation that won four taekwondo titles. He said the attempt to win the second straight Olympic gold “gives me goose bumps” but he has tried to stay calm and to enjoy himself more.
In his quest for the second Olympic gold in row, Cha is joined by Hwang Kyung-seon, the returning champion in women’s under-67kg class.
This will be Hwang’s third Olympics. She won the bronze at the 2004 Athens Games before reaching the top of the podium in Beijing. “I am trying not to put too much thought into a back-to-back title,” Hwang said. “I am trying to prepare as if I am going after my first Olympic gold.”
Two other fighters are first-time Olympians: Lee In-jong in women’s over-67kg and Lee Dae-hoon in men’s under-58kg.
Lee In-jong, who will celebrate her 30th birthday in London on Aug. 2, made the Olympic team in her fourth try. Before three previous Olympics, Lee slipped in the semifinals of the national team trials.
She said she planned to retire at the end of this year if she did not make the Olympic team. “I just went out there and poured my heart out, thinking this would be my last shot at the Olympics,” Lee said. “I’ve gone through a lot, and I hope my journey can inspire people.”