The Korea Herald


With undersized delegation, S. Korea fears worst Olympic outing in nearly 50 years

Olympic committee aims low with the goal as few as 5 gold medals, which would be the fewest since 1976

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : June 25, 2024 - 14:01

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South Korean taekwondo national team poses for a photo during a media day held Tuesday in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province. (Yonhap) South Korean taekwondo national team poses for a photo during a media day held Tuesday in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province. (Yonhap)

July 26 will mark the opening of the Paris 2024 Olympics, but the French-bound South Korean delegation for the international sporting event is expected to be the smallest in recent years.

A lackluster performance by the men's soccer team in April, and bitter losses by both men's and women's volleyball teams last year, meant that the country would not be participating in these events for the first time in several decades. The women's basketball team also lost its bid for qualification last year, and the men's basketball team has not set foot on the Olympic court since 1996.

Lee Kee-heung, the chief of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, said he expects five Olympic gold medals and a No. 15 spot on the medal table for South Korea, in an April 17 event hosted to encourage the Olympic athletes. The committee has eventually set its provisional goal to be five to six gold medals.

Just over a month left before the opening ceremony, hardly anyone in the country is aiming high.

Less than 150 South Korean athletes are expected to partake in the Olympic Games set in Paris, which would be the least since the 50 sent to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. After the boycott of the 1980 Games, South Korean delegations have never had less than 200 members until now.

If South Korea ends up scraping just five gold medals, it would be the smallest medal haul since 1976, when wrestler Yang Jung-mo won the country's first gold medal ever in the freestyle 62-kilogram discipline. Sohn Kee-chung became the first Korean ever to win the gold in 1935, but it was recorded as a Japanese gold because Korea was colonized by Japan at the time.

Despite the bleak initial outlook, the size of the delegation is not likely to greatly dampen South Korea’s chance of winning Olympic medals. The reduced number of athletes being sent is largely because of its lack of representation in team sports compared to past years, with only the women's handball team making the cut.

In contrast, men's baseball, men's soccer, men's rugby, women's handball, women's basketball, and women's volleyball teams participated in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

But those team sports have never been South Korea's strong suit. In fact, the country has ever only won one gold medal in team sports, not counting archery and fencing where players compete one at a time.

The goal of winning five to six gold medals set by the Olympic committee is actually not far off from the feat accomplished in Tokyo with over 80 more athletes than the Paris event. In Tokyo, the South Korean delegation of 232 athletes won six gold medals, four silver, and 10 bronze medals, ranking 16th in terms of gold medals won and 13th in overall medals.

While South Korea does not have a glowing prospect in the upcoming event, its performance is not likely to fall off significantly compared to its usual standards. Throughout its 20 outings in the Summer Olympics, South Korea has won more than 10 gold medals on just four occasions.

The US-based data company Gracenote recently posted its medal table forecast for the Paris Olympics, in which it placed South Korea in 10th. It projected that the country would outdo its disappointing performance in the Tokyo Games and win nine gold medals, 24 medals overall.