Korea has sent numerous gymnasts to the Olympic Games so far, but has only ended up with silver medals in the last four Games since Atlanta in 1996.
This time, however, its gold medal prospects look very bright. Nineteen-year-old Yang Hak-seon of Korea National Sport University is regarded as a sure bet among the Korean Olympian athletes.
Yang made the national team as a second-year high school student. The following year, he clinched the gold medal in the Guangzhou 2010 Asian Games, grabbing the spotlight in the local artistic gymnastic community.
|Korea’s Yang Hak-seon takes part in a practice session ahead of the London Olympics. (Yonhap News)|
In the World Championships in Tokyo in October last year, he scored 16.566 points on average after two vaults, and once again stood at the top of the podium.
Yang has become the world vault champion with the most difficult vault ever attempted. He made as many as three twisted turns before landing, which is a half turn more than the skill performed by his compatriot and retired gymnast Yeo Hong-chul, who won the 1996 Atlanta Olympic vault silver medal.
In the Tokyo worlds, Yang succeeded with the difficult technique, which led to it being named after him by the International Gymnastics Federation. His vault, registered in his own name of Yang Hak-seon, is rated 7.4, the highest point level, which means it is the most difficult for now. Experts see little chance of someone else doing the technique as cleanly as Yang had done in London.
Yang reportedly had planned to debut an upgraded version of the Yang Hak Seon, which is a half turn more, in London, but is now planning to pull off the original Yang technique perfectly.
An absence of competitors to speak of makes him look golden for sure in London, unless he should make a critical mistake.
Thomas Bouhail of France, world champ in 2010 and Beijing Olympic silver medalist four years ago, injured his left knee ligament during practice late last year and will miss the London Olympics.
Most other gymnasts are expected to choose techniques rated 7.0 to 7.2 in terms of difficulty, so if Yang tries the 7.4 skill, he is to lead others by 0.2 to 0.4 points from the beginning. So, even if he hops one or two steps backward on the mat upon landing and judges detract from his points, he is not likely to fall far behind. In the event, the medal color can be decided by a 0.001 point difference.
Flavius Koczi is often mentioned as Yang’s rival over the vault gold medal.
The Romanian veteran won a gold medal in the event in the 2012 European Championships in Montpellier, France, in May. He applied techniques rated 7.0 in difficulty and scored 16.116 on average to become the European champ.
Koczi ranked 7th in the Beijing Olympic Games four years ago and grabbed gold medals in the 2009 and 2011 Summer University Games.
A possible negative factor for Yang is the psychological pressure to win the gold. The current reigning champ also may have to overcome the possibility of European judges evaluating his skill more strictly.
“My biggest rival is really myself. I know if I can keep training the way I have, I can win the gold medal,” Yang said in a recent news conference.
The men’s vault final is to take place at 11:35 p.m. Korean time on Aug. 6.
By Chun Sung-woo (email@example.com)