Judo team set to topple world champions
The Korean national team placed second behind Japan at the 2009 World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands. But Korea appears to be up to the challenge with 14 male and 14 female Korean judokas set to compete in this year’s World Judo Championships in Tokyo from Thursday to Sept. 13. It is boasting one of its strongest teams to date with two world-class competitors in several weight class divisions.
Leading the way for Korea will be Wang Ki-chun in the 73-kilogram (161 pounds) division. Korea has traditionally been dominant in this weight class and Wang has been a force in his young career. The 22-year-old is currently ranked first in the world and is gunning for his third consecutive world title.
Wang first gained prominence among Korean judo fans for defeating the 2004 Beijing Summer Games gold-medalist Lee Won-hee in the national qualifications tourney. Wang would go on to place first at the 2007 World Championships at the age of 19.
Despite settling for a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games because of a fractured rib cage, Wang came back to have his strongest season to date in 2009 by defending his world title in Rotterdam and winning all Grand Slam competitions, as well as setting an all-time consecutive win record at 52.
Aside from Wang, Korea boasts another top competitor in Bang Gui-man. Ranked second in the world, the 27-year-old gained national attention at the Suwon World Masters 2010 in January when Wang’s consecutive winning streak came to a halt in the second round and Bang placed first. With Wang recovering from an injury to his left elbow, Bang has a solid shot at placing first in Tokyo.
“I will be counting on the top ranked judokas on our team but rankings are merely numbers,” said men’s team manager Jung Hoon in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “In the sport of judo, a winner can be decided in a split second. Competitors have to rely on their physical conditioning and luck on that particular day. You never know who might win the gold.”
Aside from Wang and Bang, Korea is hoping for a medal from 2008 Summer Games gold medalist Choi Min-ho in the 60-kilogram division. Kim Joo-jin and Ahn Jung-hwan will vie for medals in the 66-kilogram division.
Kim Jae-bum is another favorite to medal in the 81-kilogram division while Lee Kyu-won will attempt to defend his world title in the 90-kilogram division. And Hwang Hee-tae and Kim Soo-wan in the 100-kilogram and +100/open division are other contenders.
Competitions start Thursday at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium with the +100 and 100-kilogram divisions, while the 73-kilogram competitions take place on Saturday.
By Jason Kim [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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