Korea’s athletics medal hunt is a marathon, not a sprint
For many people, athletics and the Olympics go hand in hand.
There is no sport that represents the Olympics more than the track and field events that make up the modern athletics category. Only five sports have been contested at every single modern Olympics since 1896: Athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics and swimming.
Of those, only athletics can claim a longer Olympic history — the very first ancient Olympics roughly 3,000 years ago in 776 BC was a running race. Athletics isn't only one of the most popular and recognizable sports in the Olympics, for a long time it was the whole Olympics.
Yet despite that long history, athletics is probably not the sport that most Korean Olympics fans think of. While athletics may be at the heart of every Olympics, Korean athletes tend do excel in more technical sports like archery and shooting, or physical sports like Taekwondo, wrestling and judo.
Korea has participated in the athletics competition at every single Games since its Olympic debut in 1948, with the notable exception of 1976, when Korea didn't field a single athlete. Throughout that time, Korea has only won two medals: One gold and one silver.
Both of Korea's medals have come in the marathon event, where Korea briefly excelled in the early 1990s. The first athletics medal went to Hwang Young-cho, who won gold in the men's marathon at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Four years later, Lee Bong-ju picked up silver in the marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Koreans have actually won two other athletics medals at the Olympics — again, both in marathon — but the medals went to Japan as Korea was an occupied country at the time. Sohn Kee-chung won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, competing under the Japanese name Son Kitei. Nam Sung-yong took bronze in the same event, competing under the Japanese name Nan Shoryu.
There are a total of 24 men's athletics events, 23 women's events and one mixed events being competed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. These include 11 running races for both genders, as well as two relay races each and the mixed relay, four jumping events and four throwing events.
There are also two walking races for men — 20 kilometer and 50 kilometer — while women will only race the shorter distance. The decathlon for men and heptathlon for women complete the list.
Korea is sending a total of seven athletes to complete in athletics events in Tokyo, five in trace events and two in field events. Unsurprisingly, considering Korea's history in the event, the majority of athletes are long distance runners.
Oh Joo-hwan and Shim Jung-sub will represent Korea in the men's marathon. Naturalized athlete Oh will be making his Olympic debut in Tokyo, while Shim will be racing for a second time after the 2016 Rio Games.
Shim only just made it into the Olympics, qualifying in April with a time just under the Olympic cutoff time — two hours, 11 minutes and 30 seconds — with two hours, 11 minutes and 24 seconds recorded at a qualification race in Yecheon, Northern Gyeongsang. Oh earned his spot at the 2019 Gyeongju International Marathon with a time of two hours eight minutes and 42 seconds.
Ahn Seul-ki and Choi Kyung-sun will compete in the women's marathon. Ahn was also in Rio, where she finished in a distant 42nd, while Choi competed at the 2018 Asian Games, just missing out on a medal with a fourth-place finish.
Rounding off the track races, Choe Byeong-kwang will compete in the men's 20-kilometer walk race in Tokyo.
In the field events, Woo Sang-hyeok will represent Korea in the high jump and Jin Min-sub will compete in the pole vault.
Both Woo and Jin have seen plenty of medal success in their careers, but never at the Olympics.
Woo won gold at the 2017 Asian Championship and silver at the 2018 Asian Games, but finished tied for 22nd at the 2016 Rio Olympics, his only outing on the big stage.
Jin picked up bronze at the 2013 Asian Championships and at the 2014 Asian Games, but failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Despite a 10-year career, Jin is still going strong, setting his current personal best at 5.72 meters in 2019.
Athletics events will begin on July 30 and run until the Games end on Aug. 8. The field events come first, with the men's high jump qualifiers will be held on July 30 with the finals on Aug. 1. The pole vault qualifiers will be held on July 31 with the finals on Aug. 3.
The long-distance events will be held on the final few days of the Games. The men's 20 kilometer race will be held on Aug. 5, followed by the women's marathon on Aug. 7. Finally, the men's marathon, which is traditionally the last event at the Olympics, will be held on Aug. 8.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]