Korean sports reflects on dramatic advances in 2004Even-numbered years are usually busy ones for sports, and 2004 was no exception as this was the year of the Athens Olympics. The impressive performances of the Korean athletes delighted sports fans here, while Korean golfers also were a source of pride. The JoongAng Ilbo has selected its choices for the 10 biggest sports stories of the year.
Korea makes top 10 in Athens Olympics
The biggest news in Korean sports for the year was the country’s top 10 ranking in the medal count, once again, at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Korea also won a gold medal in the men’s singles table tennis for the first time in 16 years, and reached the soccer quarterfinals for the first time in over half a century.
The country finished ninth with nine gold, 12 silver and nine bronze medals.
The first gold medal came in judo as Lee Won-hee beat Makarov Vitaliy of Russia with an ippon, or knockout.
Meanwhile, in table tennis, Ryu Seung-min beat Wang Hao of China 4-2, overcoming the game’s traditional powerhouse for the first time since the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
The Korean archery teams again proved that the country owns the sport. Park Sung-hyun and Lee Sung-jin competed for gold in the women's singles, which Park won.
The men's soccer team led by coach Kim Ho-kon added a new chapter in Korea's Olympic soccer history. It drew Paraguay in the quarterfinals, but lost 2-3 despite goals by Lee Chun-soo.
The Korean women's handball team lost to Denmark in the second penalty shootout of the playoffs. However, the media praised the women's team for winning "a silver medal even more valuable than a gold."
LPGA tour sees ladies advancing
Korean female golfer Michelle Wie's participation against men in the 2004 PGA Tour Sony Open, where she came in 80th by taking advantage of her long drives, shocked the world of professional golf.
In the first LPGA Tour event in March 2004, the Welch's / Fry's Championship, seven Korean golfers were in the top 10.
Including Grace Park's win at the major Kraft Nabisco Championship, Korean female golfers won five LPGA tournaments this year.
K. J. Choi ranked third in the 2004 Masters Tournament in April and sixth in the PGA Championship in August.
New coach inspires new tactics
With the memory of Korea’s advance to the semifinals in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup games still fresh, the no-score draw against the Maldives in the qualifying round for the next contest in Germany saw the ouster of coach Humberto Coelho.
After a failed attempt to recruit Frenchman Bruno Metsu, Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere took over the national team. Korea beat Maldives 2-0 in the final round, moving it closer to the main event in 2006.
The team beat Germany on Dec. 19, 3-1, exacting revenge for its loss in the 2002 semifinal.
Dramatic series final sees Unicorns top Lions
The 2004 Pro Baseball Korean Series fought between the Hyundai Unicorns and Samsung Lions produced many records, including 16 home runs, the most strikeouts in one game (27 in the fourth game) and the fewest hits in one game (four in the sixth game). However, the biggest record was that there was a ninth, deciding game. The two teams had tied in three games.
The final game was held in pouring rain at Jamsil Baseball Stadium on Nov. 1 and was considered to be the best game in the 23 years of pro baseball history in Korea. Hyundai beat Samsung in the final game 8-7, to give it the win after a dramatic series.
Bluewings triumph in K-League shootout
The Suwon Samsung Bluewings won the 2004 pro soccer K-League championship, defeating the Pohang Steelers on Dec. 12. Suwon won 4-3 in a penalty shootout. This was the first victory for Suwon coach Cha Bum-Kun.
Former player Cha took the helm of the national team, only to lose his position in the middle of the 1998 World Cup in France following humiliating performances. Cha spent the next couple of years coaching a Chinese professional soccer team.
This was the third victory for Suwon following the first in 1998 and the second in 1999.
Baseball stars arrested in tainted urine scandal
Police found that professional baseball players submitted tainted urine samples to avoid mandatory service in the Korean Army.
Seventy two players of the eight pro baseball teams were involved in the case and 53 of them were arrested. Pro baseball fans and the teams were shocked by the incident and some of the players involved were recognized starters in the game.
The pro teams said the players would be barred from playing again.
Judging error leaves gymnast with bronze
With a performance marked by superb technical skills, Korean gymnast Yang Tae-young was only an inch away from winning a gold medal in the men's Individual all-round competition in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
However, due to judging errors on the parallel bars, the gold medal went to Paul Hamm of the United States instead. Yang had to be content with only a bronze medal.
Yang received 9.9 points for the parallel bars, which should have been a 10 instead. After the competition ended, the Korean team appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but to no avail. The judges who made the errors were removed from their posts.
Tiger wows fans on Jeju Island
American golfer Tiger Woods came to Korea for the first time on Nov. 12 to participate in the MBC Raon Construction Invitational Skins Game held on Jeju island.
The 200,000 won ($190) tickets were sold out to the many fans who flew to the island to get a peek at Woods.
Woods received $1.5 million in exchange for participating in the game and made another $100,000 at a casino while he was staying on Jeju.
Woods was praised for his manner and skills as well as his showmanship, but Colin Montgomery won the most skins on the golf course he designed.
Students heading for NBA
Ha Seung-jin, a19-year-old basketball player who stands 2 meters, 23 centimeters (6 feet, 3 inches) tall, signed a contract with the Portland TrailBlazers yesterday, making him the first Korean to play in the National Basketball Association. On June 25, in an NBA newcomers' draft, Ha was picked 17th in the second round by the TrailBlazers. Ha had played with the ABA Portland Reign to hone his skills.
Bang Seong-yun of Yonsei University also joined the lower National Basketball Development League to prepare for the NBA.
Ssireum may collapse
Korea's traditional wrestling sport, ssireum, is on the verge of collapse.
The crisis has come as one of the three professional teams in Korea, LG Investment & Securities's Hwangso team, was dissolved on Dec. 6.
Following the recent protests by LG's ssireum athletes, LG's star Choi Hong-man said he would abandon the sport for a free fighting league held in Japan.
Choi plans to fight as a free-style fighter in the K-1 no-holds-barred fighting competition.
He signed a two-year contract with Fighting Entertainment Group, the sponsor of the K-1 event.
by JoongAng Ilbo Sports Desk