Olympic stars gear up for the 2012 Games

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Olympic stars gear up for the 2012 Games


Korean Olympic wrestlers train at the National Training Center in Gongneung-dong, northern Seoul, on Dec. 21. The 2012 London Olympics start on July 27. [NEWSIS]

For athletes who have been training at the National Training Center in Gongneung-dong, northern Seoul, 2012 must be the year they have been waiting for.

With the Summer Olympics just months away, Korean athletes are pushing harder for the London Games, hoping their tight and rigorous training routines will pay off at the quadrennial event.

The Olympics begin on July 27 and wrap up on Aug. 12. A total of 302 medals are up for grabs in 26 events. Korea, finishing seventh at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is aiming for its third consecutive top-10 cumulative finish by winning at least 13 gold medals. The nation is also hoping to send its athletes to all 26 events in London, with some 400 athletes and coaches representing Korea.

Among the athletes, female weightlifter Jang Mi-ran and male swimmer Park Tae-hwan will attempt to defend their 2008 gold medals.

Jang, 29, won the gold in the over-75-kilograms (165-pounds) weight class with a combined total of 325 kilograms. In Beijing, she broke the world record in the snatch event by clearing 140 kilograms, followed by lifting 186 kilograms in the clean and jerk.

Park earned the top medal in the 400-meter free style by finishing at 3 minutes, 41.86 seconds.

The two star athletes endured a difficult path after the 2008 Olympics, but recent performances have proven both are gearing up their condition to secure repeat titles.

Jang has been fighting with the aftereffects of a 2010 car accident in addition to a series of minor injuries last year. However, she triple-crowned at the National Sports Festival in October and decided not to compete in the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships in Paris in order to focus on the London Games.

Her fiercest contenders will be Zhou Lulu of China and Tatiana Kashirina of Russia. Zhou, 23, is the 2011 Worlds champion and holds the world record in combined total at 328 kilograms, while the 20-year-old Kashirina has the world record in the snatch at 148 kilograms.

The post-Olympic path has been no different for Park. He slumped in the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome, failing to qualify for the finals in any event. However, in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, he won three gold medals. Last year, he also claimed the gold at the Worlds in Shanghai.

For his title in the 400 meters, Park will have to defend against Sun Yang of China, while in the 200-meter free style, he has to face Paul Biedermann of Germany and American swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

“Actually, my goal at the Olympics is to set the world record,” Park said after his training session last week. “The color of the medal will come after I set the record.”

While the two athletes are raising the hopes of Korean sports fans, the nation is also hoping to strike gold not only in traditional mines like archery and taekwondo, but also in judo, shooting, wrestling, fencing, gymnastics and badminton.

“In judo, Japan is not dominant like in the old days, so we are hoping for a medal,” said Park Yong-sung, head of the Korea Olympic Committee, to Yonhap News Agency over the weekend. “Although in taekwondo it’s not going to be that easy since, in general, countries’ performances have improved.”

To give a boost to athletes’ performances, the KOC has signed a lease contract with Brunel University in West London during the London Olympics to set up a training camp like the National Training Center. It is the first time that such facility is going to be provided for Korean Olympic athletes.

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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