Korea judo teams optimistic in goals for gold

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Korea judo teams optimistic in goals for gold

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Korean judoka An Chang-rim, right, is the ace of the judo team heading to the Rio Olympics. An hopes to win the gold this summer against Japanese judoka Shohei Ono in what he deems to be his last Olympics of his career. [NEWSIS]

Judo is arguably one of the most physically demanding events in the Olympics. Judokas’ practice sessions are especially notorious for their intensity and subsequent physical pain. Even so, Korean judokas are willing to push themselves through such tough trainings and shed blood, sweat and tears to stand atop of the podium by the end of this year’s Olympics in Brazil.

The sport has always been a gold mine for Team Korea during the Summer Games. The Korean judo team has earned 40 medals so far: 11 golds, 14 silvers and 15 bronze models, during the previous Games. This puts Korea No. 3 in the world in Olympic judo medal rankings after Japan with 72 medals and France with 44.

For this year’s Summer Games, Korean judokas are aiming to win at least two gold medals. But, with seven male judokas and five female judokas traveling to Rio, the Korea Judo Association thinks the team might bring home as many as three to four golds.

An Chang-rim, No. 1 in the world in the 73-kilogram classification was born to second-generation Japanese-Korean parents. “I refused to take Japanese citizenship. I hope to win gold at the Olympics as a Korean. I consider this to be the last Olympics of my career. I am pushing my limit everyday to train for it.” He has yet to defeat Japan’s Shohei Ono but he says he does not want to lose to Japanese judokas. “I know people’s expectation toward me is big but I am not pressured by it,” added An.

Defending world champion Gwak Dong-han in the 90-kilogram category is also heavily favored to take home the gold this summer.

“I experienced what the Olympics is like in 2012 when I was a training partner for coach Song Dae-nam,” said Gwak, who earned a gold medal in 2015 at the World Judo Championships. “It’s been my goal since then to win Olympic gold. I will put all my effort to maintaining my physical condition at this level.”

An Ba-ul, ranked first in the world in 66-kilogram also said he’s also focused. “We have struggled against Japanese judokas in the past but we will work on our weaknesses for the remainder of our preparation.”

Korean female judo rising star Kim Jan-di is no stranger to winning, but the Olympics has eluded her. The No. 3 ranked judoka in the world hopes to turn things around at the Games and ultimately end the gold drought the Korean female team has had in the past two decades. “This is my second Olympics stage so I think I have an idea on how to earn gold,” said Kim. “I picture myself with a gold medal around my neck during trainings.”

When asked about her hope for gold, Kim answered emotionally. “Every day is like the Olympics for me. I am going to train as hard as I can and rest afterwards with a gold medal around my neck.”

Head coach Seo Jong-bok has a clear agenda for the Summer Games this year: to earn as many gold medals as possible and to defeat Japan.

“All male judokas have a shot at standing atop the podium. My expectation for the female judokas including Kim is also high. I will help them in any way I can so they can wear the medal around their neck at the end,” Seo said.

The coaching staff is doing everything they can to prepare their athletes for the Rio Games, including preparing healthy meals.

“We hope they would make the Korean people proud,” said a staffer of the Korea Judo Association.

The Korean judo team is planning to travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 22 to kick off the final stage of their preparations.

BY SONG JI-HOON [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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