Korea sets sights on second place, again

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Korea sets sights on second place, again


Korean athletes that will compete at the 2018 Asian Games pose after a media day at the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Korea has once again set its sights on second place at the 2018 Asian Games, looking to hold onto the No. 2 spot in the medal table that it has now kept for 20 years.


The Korean women’s archery team trains at the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

A total of 779 Korean athletes will compete in 39 of the 40 sports at Jakarta Palembang 2018, the team announced during a media day at the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong on Tuesday.

If Korea achieves its goal of coming in second it will be the sixth consecutive time, since the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. Team Korea hopes to finish ahead of Japan by winning at least 65 gold, 71 silver and 72 bronze medals. Korea is unlikely to topple China, which has comfortably won more than 100 gold medals in the past.

Korea will not be competing in contract bridge, a new event added to the Games this year.

During the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea won 79 gold medals, enough to comfortably take second place. Korea’s best year was at the 2002 Games in Busan, where the home side took 96 golds.

“Our goal is clear: to finish second [in the medal standing] for the sixth consecutive games,” said Lee Kee-heung, president of the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC). “But we know this is not going to be easy thistime as Japan made big investments and boosted its competitiveness in sports.”

Though Korea’s projected number of gold medals is 14 less than the previous event, it’s by no means an easy target. Japan has been slowly improving in a number of sports that will be included in the Asian Games.

“At a recent archery World Cup event [in Antalya], we finished runner up in the recurve mixed team event after losing to Japan,” said Chang Hye-jin, the two-time gold medalist in archery at the Rio Olympics. “Since only one male and a female archer compete in the mixed event, there is pressure.”


The Korean women's volleyball team trains at the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Of the archers that competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Chang and Kim Woo-jin of the men’s team are the only two to take a spot on the national team to compete at the Asian Games. Chang and Kim are the top ranked archers in the women’s and men’s world ranking. Despite winning an individual gold at the Rio Olympics, Chang has never won individual gold at an Asian Games, losing to Jung Dasomi in the final to finish with silver during the 2014 Games.

Korea is a longtime powerhouse in archery, where they’ve won a total of 38 Asian Games golds in both the men and women’s event. With the addition of the mixed event, Korea hopes to take gold in all five events.

In women’s volleyball Korea hopes to defend its gold from 2014. Japan is expected to be the biggest threat at the Games, having recently defeated Korea in a 3-0 sweep at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League in Thailand in June. Kim Yeon-koung will once again serve as the captain of the women’s volleyball team.

“We weren’t expecting a sweep,” said Cha Hae-won, head coach of the Korean women’s volleyball team. “Our players were really disappointed.”

Park Sang-young, who won a surprise gold in men’s fencing at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will be competing in the individual event for the first time at the Asian Games. In 2014, Park competed in the team event and helped Korea win a gold medal.

“This is my first time competing in an individual event, so I feel more responsible,” said Park. “I didn’t have a good performance last year because I had some pressure, but after psychological treatment and giving up my greediness, I think I have been able to get back in good form.”

There are high hopes for the inter-Korean teams as well this year. The two Koreas have agreed to form unified teams across three sports - dragon boat racing, women’s basketball and rowing - competing in a total of six events.

“In dragon boat events we want to win one or two golds,” Lee said.

In addition to the unified team, the two Koreas will once again enter the opening ceremony together as a unified team. Prior to the Asian Games, the two Koreas also marched together in the opening ceremony at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where they also fielded a unified women’s ice hockey team.

BY KIM JI-HAN, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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