Success in 2nd place for Korea

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Success in 2nd place for Korea

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Korean athletes and staff enter the Asiad Main Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games on Saturday. Korea finished the Games in second place by winning a total of 234 medals. [Joint Press Corps]

The 2014 Incheon Asian Games, staged for 16 days and attended by about 15,000 athletes and staff from 45 members of the Olympic Council of Asia, ended Saturday with its grand closing ceremony finale at the Asiad Main Stadium. In Asia’s biggest sporting event, which saw athletes compete for a total of 439 gold medals in 36 sports, Korea accomplished its goal of a fifth straight second place finish by winning 234 medals: 79 gold, 71 silver and 84 bronze medals. Korean fans witnessed golden performances in some of their favorite sports such as baseball, basketball and football, but watched their countrymen struggle in swimming and track and field - events that have the most medals up for grabs and now pose a grand challenge ahead of the 2016 Brazil Olympics.

In the closing ceremony, eight athletes who shone in Incheon including Rim Chang-woo (football), Son Yeon-jae (rhythmic gymnastics), Lee Dae-hoon (taekwondo) and Lee Tuk-young (archery) were selected as the national flag bearers. K-pop stars such as Sistar, boy band CN Blue and Big Bang were also at the stadium to celebrate the success of the Games and wish the next host, Jakarta, success.

The goal of winning more than 90 gold medals wasn’t reached, but Korean athletes made their nation happy in their favorite sports. In men’s football, the Taegeuk Warriors won their first Asian Games gold in 28 years with a dramatic extra time goal by defender Rim Chang-woo for a 1-0 win against North Korea. The Korean national baseball team, led by Manager Ryu Joong-il, became back-to-back Asian Games champions, beating Chinese Taipei 6-3. With Taiwan leading 3-2 in the championship game at Munhak Stadium, Korea scored four runs in the eighth inning for a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Watching the country’s darling Son yeon-jae win the country’s first-ever Asian Games gold medal in the women’s individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics was another happy moment.

But there were also some sad moments for the country. A total of 53 gold medals are up for grabs in swimming and 47 are offered in track and field, but Korea failed to claim even one, while their rivals Japan and China swept most of the gold. The result showed that there is a lot of work to be done to properly train competitive prospects for the 2016 Olympics. Korean swimming icon Park Tae-hwan, who was the most valuable player in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games after he won three gold, two silver and two bronze medals, finished the event with one silver and five bronze medals and had to look on as Asia’s rising star Hagino Kosuke was named the MVP of the Incheon Games. Kosuke won four gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

Korea was aiming to win at least three gold medals in track and field, but failed to win even one for the first time since the 1998 Bangkok Games. Some glory was restored by sprinter Yeo Hosua on Tuesday as he led the team to win the country’s first track and field medal in the men’s 1,600-meter relay, Korea’s first silver medal finish in the event since 1998. Yeo also won a bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter, the first medal since Jang Jae-geun won gold in the event in 1986. Korea claimed four silver and five bronze medals in track and field.

But the praise-worthy performances didn’t extend to the organizing committee, which was heavily criticized during the event for its poor management. The committee that was short on funds made foreign media representatives laugh out loud as volunteer workers dragged towels across the track to dry the rain-soaked lanes at the Asiad Main Stadium, despite the widespread use of Aquasoaker rolling machines at international competitions since 2009. The organizing committee also acknowledged on Sept. 22 that salmonella had been found in lunch boxes that were distributed to athletes. The boxes were taken away, and some athletes said they had to compete hungry.

Management of volunteer workers also drew criticism. Unprepared volunteer guides in stadiums caused confusion among teams and the media. The budget for the Asian Games was 2.5 trillion won ($2.4 billion), 80 percent of which went toward facilities. Despite the existence of Munhak Stadium, the city government built another main stadium near Cheongna, a new business town, to woo voters.


BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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