When the South Korean women's hockey team makes its Olympic debut next February on home ice, it will go up against three top-10 countries in the preliminary stage.
The 22nd-ranked South Korea has made strides in recent years, but it will still have an uphill battle against Sweden (No. 5), Switzerland (No. 6) and Japan (No. 7) in Group B.
But South Korean captain Park Jong-ah isn't one to look at the matchups and shudder with fear. In fact, the team's top forward has set a lofty goal at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
"Our goal is to win the bronze medal," Park said after her practice at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, some 90 kilometers south of Seoul, on Monday. "And every player is working together toward that goal."
On paper, Japan sits closest to South Korea in the world rankings, and even the most optimistic of the fans would say the most realistic goal for South Korea would be to beat Japan for its sole victory. But Park insisted, "Our objective isn't just to defeat Japan."
|South Korean women`s hockey captain Park Jong-ah poses for a photo after an interview with Yonhap News Agency at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, on Nov. 27, 2017. (Yonhap)|
And even if South Korea gets through the group stage, awaiting the host country will be any of the world's top four paired in Group A: the United States, Canada, Finland and Russia. The top two teams from Group A advance directly to the semifinals. Then the quarterfinals will feature the third- and fourth-place teams from Group A and the top two nations from Group B.
It'd be easy to dismiss Park's comment as a pipe dream, but she at least deserves credit for aiming high.
The 21-year-old has also put the pressure squarely on her shoulders. Park is by far the most skilled forward on the team, and South Korea will only go as far as she will take the team.
But she hasn't been herself of late while dealing with some right shoulder pains. In the meantime, South Korea has dropped consecutive exhibition games against the likes of France and Hungary.
Park didn't put too much stock into those results.
"This may sound like an excuse, but I and many other players have been injured," said Park, who attended Ontario Hockey Academy in Canada. "We couldn't run our offensive or defensive systems properly."
A native of Gangneung, a city adjacent to PyeongChang that will host all hockey games during the Olympics, Park said she can't wait to get on the ice before the home fans.
"I'd love to score in every game," she said. "I'll try to help the team take the bronze medal." (Yonhap)