Korea on way to finish ahead of Japan in golds
And for Korea, gold medals have come from unlikely sources.
Pistol and rifle shooters combined for 13 gold medals - including Korea’s very first gold medal at the games in the men’s 50-meter pistol - in the first week of the Asian Games, second to only China’s 16. Korea had only expected to grab about four gold medals and none in individual events.
Byun Kyung-soo, head coach of the shooting squad, said the athletes and coaches had been building up to this moment for eight years.
“Our coaches never gave up on any one shooter, and we stayed with everyone until the end,” Byun said, explaining that rather than focusing on a few select events, he and his staff invested an equal amount of time and energy into all disciplines.
Such efforts bore fruit in the medal count. Korean gold medals in shooting came from air pistol, pistol, rifle prone and rifle three positions.
Byun said there are only 3,000 registered, competitive shooters in Korea, but he claimed the Korean talent pool is still solid.
“There are a lot of good, young shooters,” Byun said. “We just haven’t unveiled them because they’re still developing.”
Byun also said the Korean shooting team was only at “80 percent” and that it will be at 100 percent by the time the London Olympics roll around in two years.
“I had kind of expected we would exceed our goal here,” Byun said. “The objective in London is to win three to five gold medals.”
Judokas doubled Korean officials’ earlier prediction and gobbled up six gold medals - without Olympic medalists Wang Ki-chun and Choi Min-ho winning their divisions.
The baseball gold medal also made headlines for Korea in the first week. Eleven players, including Major League Baseball outfielder Choo Shin-soo, secured exemptions from mandatory military service by winning the gold. Choo, right fielder for the Cleveland Indians, will seek a long-term contract extension this offseason.
Swimmer Park Tae-hwan was a one-man wrecking crew in the pool. He won seven medals by himself, with three gold in individual races. He broke his own Asian record in the 200-meter freestyle and set the best 400-meter freestyle time of 2010 in the process.
China proved to be too much for Koreans in table tennis. The lopsided loss in the men’s team final, in which three Koreans failed to win even one game, prompted head coach Kim Taek-soo to admit that Korea is simply “not good enough” to beat China. Korean table tennis ended up with a silver and four bronze medals, going a second straight Asian Games without a gold medal.
The men’s badminton team put up a better fight than the table tennis players, but they nevertheless suffered the same result in the end. As of Saturday, badminton players also had a silver and four bronze to their credit.
The billiard sports team ended its second straight Asian Games without a gold medal last Thursday. Dance sports made their Asian Games debut here and Koreans had high hopes. But China won all 10 gold medals and South Korea took home seven silver and three bronze medals.
Athletes in taekwondo, a traditional Korean martial art, fell short of their lofty expectations. The country sent 12 athletes, hoping to snatch eight gold medals, but they walked away with only four.
Golfers, though, lived up to the hype. All four gold medals in golf - individual and team titles in men’s and women’s - were there for South Korea’s taking for the second straight Asian Games.
In the second week of the Games, Korea will look to ball sports, including volleyball, handball, football, hockey and basketball to keep adding to the medal tally. Knockout rounds will be held throughout the week.