Korea’s sports stars face important tests in 2005A series of high-profile sports events are scheduled this year, including the final qualifying rounds in Asia for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the FIFA World Youth Championship 2005, the Universiade and the World Championships in Athletics. Korean golfers will also be participating in their respective golf tours from mid-January.
Going for Gold at the Universiade
The Korean national university team will compete at the 22nd Winter Universiade in Innsbruck, Austria, from Jan. 9 to 22. About 1,500 athletes from 50 countries will vie for medals in 69 sports. Korea will send 123 athletes and officials, and hopes to replicate the extraordinary performances by its ski jumpers in the universiade two years ago.
In 2003, Kang Chil-gu, Choi Heung-chul, Kim Hyun-ki and Choi Yong-jik won two gold and one silver medal in the 21st Winter Universiade in Tarvisio, Italy, despite the fact that Korea has a short history in winter sports. The country’s representative short track skaters, including Choi Eun-kyung and Ahn Hyun-soo, are also looking for medals.
The Summer Universiade will take place in Izmir, Turkey, from July 10 to 21. The Korean team ranked third in the medal count by winning 25 gold medals in the Daegu universiade two years ago, behind China and Russia. The 4th East Asian Games will be held in Macau from Oct. 29 to Nov. 5.
The Korean women’s handball team will play an Olympic rematch against Denmark in the Seoul Cup international handball competition in May. Korea lost to Denmark in the final at the Athens Olympic Games.
Also all-star baseball teams from Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan will compete in the first Asia Champion’s Cup competition in November.
Athletes Vie For Records
The biggest individual sports events of the year will be the 10th World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki, Finland, to be held from Aug. 6 to 14. Sprinters Justin Gatlin, the winner of the gold medal in the men’s 100 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and Maurice Greene, the bronze medal winner, will be trying to shave hundredths of a second off their personal bests as they go for records. Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia will be closely watched to see whether she can set a new record in the women’s pole vault. Isinbayeva has been invited to the Busan International Athletics Competition in October.
The Four Continents Figure Skating Championships are scheduled to be held in Gangneung from Feb. 14 to 20, while the Snowboard World Cup will take place in Heongseong around the same time. In March, a leg of the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships will be held in Chuncheon.
The WTA Hansol Korea Open tennis competition is scheduled to start on Sept. 26, and last year’s winner, Maria Sharapova of Russia, is expected to defend her title.
World Cup Fever Once Again
The final qualifying games for Korea for the 2006 World Cup to be held in Germany will begin in Seoul on Feb. 9, Lunar New Year Day, when the national team faces off against Kuwait in a home leg match. Korea plays in Asia Group A, whose other members are Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, and if successful will secure a ticket to the finals for the sixth time in a row.
The match against Kuwait at the World Cup Stadium in western Seoul could be a crucial one. Kuwait has shown remarkable progress recently, beating Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Cup to qualify for the semifinals.
Following an away match against Uzbekistan on June 3, Korea will have home advantage for its last match, against Saudi Arabia on Aug. 17. A first or second-place finish in Group A guarantees a ticket to Germany, but a third-place finish means a two-leg playoff against the third-place team in Asia Group B on Sept. 3 and 7. If Korea wins these matches, it will play the fourth-place team from the North and Central America and Caribbean Group on Nov. 12 and 26 for the last ticket to Germany.
The Korean under-21 soccer team is also in action, competing at the FIFA World Youth Championship 2005 in the Netherlands beginning on June 10.
In addition, sports fans may get to see the reclusive North Korean national team as it has been registered to enter the second East Asian Football Federation Cup competition to be held in Seoul from July 31 to Aug. 6. Meanwhile, eight soccer clubs from around the world, including Guus Hiddink’s PSV Eindhoven, will be in Korea to compete for the Peace Cup from July 14 through 25.
by JoongAng Ilbo Sports Desk