The 2012 London Olympics will kick off in 10 days, and South Korea’s sight remains firmly on the numeral 10 ― as in 10 gold medals for a top-10 position in the medal table.
The Olympics, set for July 27-Aug. 12, will bring together more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries. This year’s Summer Games will also go down as the first Olympics in which every participating country will have female athletes, as Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia broke down their barriers for the first time.
South Korea will send 245 athletes in 22 sports. It’s the smallest athletic delegation since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
South Korea failed to qualify for basketball, tennis, equestrian and canoe.
London is a historic ground for South Korea. The 1948 London Olympics were the first Summer Games in which South Korea participated after gaining independence from the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial rule. The country grabbed two bronze medals then.
|Korea’s Park Chu-young takes part in a soccer practice session ahead of the Olympics on Monday. (Yonhap News)|
South Korea has since grown into a global sports power, having ranked inside the top-10 in six of the past seven Summer Olympics medal standings. It has excelled in archery, judo, wrestling and taekwondo, and has recently grabbed titles in weightlifting, badminton and swimming.
“The Olympic Games will serve as the occasion for national harmony and festivities, bringing the 50 million South Koreans as one,” said Park Yong-sung, the president of the Korean Olympic Committee. “And this year’s London Olympics is even more significant, because it was also in London in 1948 that we first competed as ‘Korea.’”
In London, gold medals could come in a bunch in the opening week. Male archers begin their team event on July 28, a day after the opening ceremony, and male shooter Jin Jong-oh will compete in the 10-meter air pistol, the same event where he won silver in Beijing.
Also on July 28, swimmer Park Tae-hwan will seek to defend his Olympic gold in the men’s 400-meter freestyle. In Beijing, he won the 400-meter free gold and took silver in the 200-meter free, becoming the first South Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal. This time, he will also compete in the 200 meters and 1,500 meters, once again acting as a one-man wrecking crew for the country.
More archery, badminton and judo events are scheduled in early August. Shuttler Lee Yong-dae is a reigning mixed doubles champion, and this year, he has a new partner in Ha Jung-eun. Lee is also eyeing another gold in men’s doubles with his long-time teammate Jung Jae-sung.
Wrestling and taekwondo competitions will take place in the second week. South Korea has earned 10 Olympic gold medals in wrestling, but none came at the Beijing Games in 2008. Its Greco-Roman delegation, led by the 2004 Olympic champion Jung Ji-hyun in the 60-kilogram division, will look to begin a new streak.
South Korea swept all four weight classes that it entered in Beijing. Two of the gold medalists then, Cha Dong-min in men’s over-80kg and Hwang Kyung-seon in women’s under-67kg, are returning for a shot at their second straight title, joined by two first-time Olympians, Lee In-jong in the women’s over-67kg and Lee Dae-hoon in men’s under-58kg.
Fans of major professional sports will have little to cheer about at this year’s Olympics. Baseball, where South Korea is the defending gold medalist, is no longer an Olympic sport. South Korean men have qualified for men’s football, but the country hasn’t won an Olympic football medal in its previous eight tries and isn’t expected to end the drought this year.
Both men’s and women’s basketball teams were knocked out during qualifying. In volleyball, only the women’s squad made it to the Olympics.
A handful of athletes will try to make history in London. Yang Hak-seon will look to become the first South Korean to win an Olympic gymnastics gold. The 19-year-old competing in vault had a new scoring element named after him by the International Gymnastics Federation, called “The Yang Hak-seon.”
Whatever Park Tae-hwan does in the swimming pool is an Olympic first for South Korea; after winning South Korea’s first swimming medals in Beijing, the 22-year-old will look to become the first Korean swimmer to repeat as Olympic champ. (Yonhap News)