Rivals, technology await Korea in Asian Games

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Rivals, technology await Korea in Asian Games

GUANGZHOU, China - Korea is counting on its young talent to retain its Asian Games taekwondo supremacy as team members face the combined challenge of determined rivals and a new electronic scoring system.

The main threats facing the Korean team as competition begins today come from the Iranian men and Chinese women participating in the event.

Iran features an exceptional men’s team with fighters ranked at the top of the sport: Reza Naderian, Mohammad Bagheri Motamed, Alireza Nassrazadany, Yousef Karami and Hossein Tajik.

The Chinese women are led by defending champion Wu Jingyu, who also won the Beijing Olympic gold medal in the under-49 kilogram (kg) class.

At the last Asian Games in Doha in 2006, Korea won nine out of 16 possible gold medals, including five in the men’s competition.

China trailed with three golds, all in women’s events. Iran, Taiwan, Jordan and Qatar each won one. Another 16 gold medals are up for grabs at this year’s competition.

“We’re aiming for a total of eight gold medals, with the women beating China and the men beating Iran,” said Korea’s Asiad head coach, Ryoo Byung-kwan.

Korean Kim Young-jin, who is China’s head coach, admitted his home country is “one of our strongest opponents.”

“But most of the players on the Korean team are new to competition,” Kim said. “So compared to them we have much more experience in international competitions and a better chance of winning.”

The Korean men’s squad includes Lee Dae-hoon, who won the men’s 63kg title at the 2007 Korea Open, and Heo Jun-nyung, who took home a bronze medal in 2005 in the world competition.

Lee Sung-hye, the 2007 world women’s 57kg champion, aims to defend her Asian Games title, and Hwang Mi-na hopes to add the 46kg Asiad title to her 2010 World Student Game gold medal. Kwon Eun-kyung is defending the women’s 53kg title.

Wu, the women’s 49kg Olympic champion, faces her archrival Yang Shu-Chun of Taiwan, whom she defeated in Doha and Beijing. Yang, 25, is expected to retire after the Asian Games.

“I think Yang’s technique shows more experience and Wu has a better mental game,” Taiwan coach Liu Congda said. “But Yang has improved a lot on her mental game as well.”

Thailand is pinning its hopes on world No. 2 Buttree Puedpong in the women’s 46kg. Puedpong grabbed the silver medal in the Beijing Olympics.

Korea will also be put to the test by new technology. The 2009 world championships became the first major tournament in which competitors were required to wear electronic sensors so that effective kicks are detected more objectively. But the new system has forced fighters to learn how to adjust their body movements and have the foot sensors hit the body sensors to score.

“It has become harder for Korean players who are not used to the new system,” Ryoo said.

Koreans have maintained their taekwondo supremacy since winning seven out of eight men’s titles since the sport’s Asiad debut in 1986. The first women’s competition was held in 1998.

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