Countdown to the Olympics
Coming off its best finish at the 2006 Turin Winter Games, at which Korean athletes earned six golds, three silvers and two bronze medals, the country has set its sights even higher in Canada.
Korea will once again rely heavily on the short-track speed skating event for the majority of its gold medals, but in a departure from its Olympic history, this year the country has a female skating star: Kim Yu-na is favored to take the gold in the female figure skating event. If she does, it will be Korea's first gold in that discipline.
Park Sung-in, the head of the Korean Olympic delegation, repeated his goal of aiming for at least five gold medals and a top-10 finish.
“We are preparing to compete to the best of our abilities. We will see to it that we achieve the goal of placing in the top 10,” Park said to the media at a welcoming ceremony at the Athletes' Village in Vancouver, Canada yesterday.
At the last Olympics in Turin, Italy, South Korea tied for ninth in overall medal count and experts predict that a repeat performance is not far-fetched - and with luck, this year's results might even be better.
The country would miss out on the 1952 Oslo Games due to the Korean War (1950-53), but it returned to the international stage at the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, with three athletes.
Nevertheless, it would take another 35 years for Korea to earn its first medal at the Winter Olympics.
Traditionally more successful in the summer Olympics, the country’s fortunes changed for the better at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, when short-track speed skating was included as an official event.
Korea earned two golds and a bronze on the short track and a silver in the speed skating event, finally ending the country’s long medal draught. Kim Ki-hoon took home a gold medal in the men’s 1,000-meter short-track event, Lee Jun-ho won a bronze medal in the men’s 1,000-meter race and the Korean men’s 5,000-meter relay team added another gold medal to the tally. Kim Yoon-man won a silver medal in the 1,000-meter speed skating event.
For a country that had been searching for a strategic sporting event on which to focus its limited resources, short-track speed skating became the answer to it's prayers.
Today, the South Korean short-track team is a force to beat, but the eyes of the nation will be on Kim Yu-na, whose strong performance in recent years has raised the profile of figure skating in a country where winter sports have always taken a back seat to other sports such as football.
How Korea performs in Vancouver may also aide the country’s third bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2018.
By Jason Kim, Brian Lee [email@example.com]