Korea looks to keep status quo at upcoming Asian Games

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Korea looks to keep status quo at upcoming Asian Games


Park Tae-hwan

With the Guangzhou Asian Games about 100 days away, Korea is reaffirming its goal of finishing at least second in the medal standings over Japan.

The multi-sports event, scheduled to be held in the Chinese city from Nov. 12-27 under the theme of “Thrilling Games and Harmonious Asia,” is expected to draw about 12,000 athletes, coaches and trainers from 45 Asian countries to compete for 476 gold medals in 42 events.

Three new sports - cricket, dance and dragon boat competitions - offering a total of 18 gold medals will be introduced at Guangzhou this year.

Korea, which plans to send about 900 athletes to compete in 41 games, aims to win the second spot in the overall medal standings for the fourth consecutive time.

The country has consistently held the No. 2 spot since the 1986 Bangkok Asian Games, while Japan has stayed in third place during the period. The exception for Japan was in 1994, when the country tied for second at the Asian Games held in Hiroshima.

Korea expects to earn more gold medals in Guangzhou than the 58 golds it acquired four years ago, to confirm itself as Asia’s second-biggest sports country following China.

“In Guangzhou, Korean athletes will take part in 41 events, four more than in Doha. Therefore, we can win more golds,” said an official with the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC).

In some events, national players have yet to be determined, he said.

The country’s gold medal forecast will be announced when the roster for the Asian Games is finalized on Sept. 30.

If past records are any indicators, Korea will continue to perform strong in wrestling, archery, bowling, cycling, judo, shooting and taekwondo - a Korean traditional martial art - at the international competition.

Wrestlers and cyclists brought home five golds each, while taekwondo players claimed nine golds at the 2006 Doha Asian Games.

If these athletes perform as they did in Doha four years ago, Korea will easily claim the second spot for the fourth consecutive time, the official said.

Strong medal hopefuls include Olympic medalist Park Tae-hwan, world champion Jang Mi-ran of weightlifting and promising rhythmic gymnast Shin Soo-ji.

This year’s games will also be an early peek at the next Asian Games in 2014, which are set to take place in Incheon.

Park Tae-hwan was 17 when he made a name for himself and bolstered Korea’s reputation by winning seven medals in swimming - three of them golds - at the Doha tournament four years ago. He even won the honor of the most valuable player.

Two years later, he won the 400m men’s freestyle in Beijing to become the first Asian to win a freestyle event at the Olympic Games and the first Korean to win an Olympic medal in swimming.

Park, who turns 21 in September, is looking to make a comeback at this year’s Asian Games in Guangzhou to defend his titles and rebuild his somewhat tainted record after lackluster performances at last year’s world championships.

Along with Park, other top athletes will use the upcoming Asian Games as a springboard for expanding their careers and making their presence felt in the sporting world.

Four-time weightlifting world champion Jang Mi-ran is gearing up to add her first Asian Games gold to her collection.

The 26-year-old won an Olympic gold with a new world record in Beijing, but she lacks an Asian Games title even though she has been an overwhelming favorite in the sport for years. National rhythmic gymnastics champion Shin Soo-ji is also ready to come to the forefront on the regional sports stage.

The 19-year-old won the bronze medal in the individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics event at the Asian championship competition in October last year.

Shin now covets gold as her rival Aliya Yussupova of Kazakhstan, who won last year’s Asian championship and the 2006 Asian Games, announced her retirement earlier this year.

Another rhythmic gymnastic hopeful, Son Yeon-jae, 16, is aiming to make a podium finish in Guangzhou.

The high school student, Korea’s No. 2 after Shin, finished 11th among 54 participants in individual all-around in a rhythmic gymnastics competition sponsored by the International Gymnastics Federation in May.

Cha Yu-ram stands out in billiard sports, an unknown world for Korean sports fans.

Winning gold for nine-ball singles in the 2009 Asian Indoor Games and at the 2010 Women’s World Nine-Ball Open, she is one of the strongest favorites for a gold medal in Guangzhou.

The 42-event Guangzhou Asian Games begin on Nov. 12 and runs for 17 days. Yonhap

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