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South Korea preview: South Korea eyes on top 10 finish
09:16, July 24, 2008

Competing in neighboring China, South Korean Olympians have been imposed high expectations by their enthusiastic countrymen as well as the local media, though the country's sports authority remains a low-key.

"Team South Korea will spare no efforts at Beijing Olympics and vie for a medal table position within the top ten," Lee Yeon Taek, president of Korean Olympic Committee (KOC), told media recently.

The target, however, could be proved a modest one for the South Koreans, who finished the ninth four years ago in Athens with nine gold, 12 silver and nine bronze medals, while the country's rankings of medal total in the other five previous Games since 1984 have never been lower than the 12th.

South Korea, which made its Olympic debut in London in 1948 and claimed the first gold 32 years ago in Montreal, was best placed the fourth in 1988 when the host nation fielded a 602-strong delegation to compete in 21 sports and collected 12 golds, 10 silver and 11 bronze on home soil.

And this time, to compete in the Olympic Games in neighboring China will also favor South Korea and the other East Asian nations besides the hosts.

The time difference between Beijing and Seoul is only one hour, and the weather and many other conditions, such as the temperature and humidity, as well as the dietary habits of the Koreans and Chinese, are quit similar.

Also the convenient traffic lines between the two countries make it possible for more Koreans to travel to Beijing to stand behind their athletes.

Lee, also chairman of the Korea Sports Council, has called up the countrymen to pay more public support and attention for the Olympians.

"Active public support would help to maximize the athletes' performances in the Games," said the KOC chief last Tuesday in a forum in downtown Seoul.

He also announced the KOC will award 50,000 U.S. dollars to the South Korean athlete who wins a gold medal in Beijing, while silver medallists will receive 25,000 dollars and those who win bronze are to receive 15,000 dollars.

"We have decided to raise the amount drastically because we are expecting intense competition between our athletes and Chinese rivals," further explained Choi Jong-hark, who takes charge of sporting affairs at the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Culture, referring to the fact that the financial rewards for medal winners are to be more than double those given for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

South Korea has earned berths in 25 sports with 267 athletes having qualified for the Olympics, as archery, weightlifting, judo and taekwondo are among the country's traditional medal hopefuls and swimming might offer a breakthrough victory for the Koreans.

Teenage sensation Park Tae Hwan has emerged as a fast rising star in pool as the 18-year-old upset defending champion Grant Hackett to win the men's 400m freestyle at last year's world championships in Melbourne and has since set a new Asian record of three minutes and 43.59 seconds.

He will eye on beating Ian Thorpe's world record of 3:40.08 set in 2002 for a Beijing Olympic victory and try to pocket the very first swimming gold for his country while swimming in the Speedo LZR swimsuit, the latest technology.

"I expect to see the winning time around three minutes and 40 seconds," said Park's coach Noh Min Sang. "It won't go past the 41-second mark."

In taekwondo, the sport they invented, Koreans are no doubt the favorites and will be spearheaded by Hwang Kyung Seon, two-time world champion in the women's under-67kg.

However, the days have gone when Koreans won everything in each taekwondo tournament. Hosts China have posed as the serious challenge-makers with twice Olympic champion Chen Zhong in the women's over-67kg and world champion Wu Jingyu in the women's 49 kg.

Same discomfiture faces the South Korean archery team, which took three out of four gold medals in last year's world championships but lost to China in the women's team final of the 2007 World Cup.

South Korea has won 14 of 22 archery golds on offer since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and will push hard in Beijing for golds of the team events as well as the women's individual against the daunting hosts Chinese, Italians and French.

Park Sung Hyun, a double gold winner in Athens, and Olympic debutant Yoon Ko Hee will lead the women's squad, while world champion Im Dong Hyun takes the best chance to end the country's drought in the men's individual title.

Triple world championship winner Jang Mi Ran leads South Korea's request for a weightlifting Olympic gold in the women's over-75kg category, as she recently set a new world training record after lifting 330kg while her greatest rival Mu Shuangshuang has been excluded from China's Olympic roster.

Source:Xinhua

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