Men’s volleyball hopes to join the ladies in London

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Men’s volleyball hopes to join the ladies in London

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National volleyball team coach Park Ki-won, center, talks with Park Chul-woo, left, and Kim Yo-han at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Wednesday. [NEWSIS]


While the women’s volleyball team is already making preparations for the Summer Games, the men’s side is battling to join them on their trip to London as they begin their qualifiers in Tokyo today.

The men’s team, led by coach Park Ki-won, arrived in Japan on Wednesday looking to earn a spot in the quadrennial event for the first time since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The women’s team earned its first Olympic berth since 2004 last weekend when it
finished in second place in its qualifying tournament.

“The women’s team moving on to the Olympics is good news,” Park said at a press conference at Incheon International Airport before departing for Japan on Wednesday. “However, that result is a separate issue with the men’s team and we will not bothered by that.”

In the eight-nation competition, the women’s team had to either finish inside the top 3 or finish on top of the other Asian nations, but the road for men’s team qualifying is much tougher as they must either finish ahead of the other Asian teams or win the tournament.

“Since every match is important, we didn’t set a specific goal,” Park said. “At least five victories will give us the possibility of qualifying, but as a coach,
I’m going for seven victories.”

The team still has a chance to advance to the Olympics even if it fails in Tokyo since there are other Olympic qualifying tournaments in Rome and Berlin.

However, for those two events, finishing best among the Asia nations does not grant a ticket to London.

In Tokyo, eight teams will play in a single round-robin format with the team with the most points in the end winning. Besides 20th-ranked Korea, Serbia (7) China (10), Iran (12), Japan (15), Venezuela (16), Puerto Rico (17) and Australia (22) will compete in the tournament.

Historically, the men’s volleyball team leads its overall head-to-head record against all the nations in the tournament except Serbia, who is 5-1 against Korea, but Park said that there is no dominant side in this tournament and he expects every match to be close until the end.

“I think there are many variables in this campaign,” Park said. “In this kind of situation, we can’t easily judge a team’s pace even if we win or lose in
one or two matches.”
Park said that the first match against Iran is crucial. The 61-year-old coach is familiar with the Middle Eastern nation after coaching them from 2002 to 2005.

“We can carry out a good team environment if we win the first match,” Park said. “Of course, not only against Iran, but in every match we will play with a mindset that is like the final.”

Before entering the qualifiers, Korea was in Italy to play the first round of the FIVB World League Group C campaign from May 18 to 20.

Korea didn’t collect a single win, losing to Italy (No. 3), the United States (6) and France (21). However, the team showed signs of improvement by going into full sets in every match and also building up teamwork.

But after the World League tournament, injuries to core players has Park and the team concerned. Center Shin Yung-suk damaged the cartilage in his
knee while left attackers Jeon Kwangin and Kim Hak-min are also suffering from minor ankle injuries.

Park lamented that there was no other choice at the moment but to administer painkillers and hope his players push through on the court.

“The key factor for us is how much these injured players can push through throughout the seven matches,” Park said. “They had injuries from the World
League games, but performed their best on the court. I felt that they really had professionalism throughout and I certainly have faith in them.”

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