Spotlight on the main medal contenders: Number 7 - South Korea
Medal spotlight on South Korea: They have western heavyweights in their sights
South Korea has won 68 gold medals and 16 of them have come in archery
Wednesday 25 July 2012
There is preparation and then there is preparation the South Korean way. Archery is an obsession in Korea, the event in which they dominate the world and one in which they have decided to leave nothing to chance in order to maintain that grip.
Worried that the crowd who gather at Lord's might be on the boisterous side – the MCC's reputation appears to have become muddied – South Korea's archers have been practising amid the hubbub of an army base back home and even in the build-up to a baseball game, another sport which fixates Koreans, in order to ensure nothing will break their archers' concentration.
South Korea have become a consistent member of the G10 – the group of 10 leading nations at the Olympics – and used the springboard of winning the right to host the 1988 Games to elevate themselves into the elite. They will never trouble the top end and rarely attract much attention beyond their own shores, but it is a record that puts some of the western heavyweights to shame – finishing above Italy and France four years ago.
The core of South Korea's success is archery. The country has won 68 gold medals and 16 of them have come in archery. "There are no recreational sports in their country, they only do elite training from the beginning," said Kisik Lee, the Korean who now coaches the US team, yesterday when asked to explain his country's dedication to the sport. "From primary school when they start archery, they are looking at only the Olympics."
They will target all four medals on offer at Lord's and will expect to win at the very least the two team events. It will be a cornerstone of the team's target – 10 for 10 is the slogan that accompanied the 370 athletes on their departure from Seoul. It is a modest ambition, 10 gold medals and 10th place in the table compared to 13 and seventh of Beijing, but it is part of a general belt-tightening that is affecting all but the hosts, the ambitious – Russia – and those with a wider agenda, such as Japan who want to boost Tokyo's 2020 bid.
South Korea's success at recent Games is a model for any host nation. Having secured the Olympics, at the preceding Games in 1984 they made the top 10 for the first time. In 1988, they finished a remarkable fourth and, apart from a blip in Sydney, they have been in the upper echelons ever since. Apart from archery, they win gold medals in taekwondo – it's the sport's home – judo and boxing. The Games remain a big draw and will attract large TV audiences. The individual who attracts most support back home is Park Tae-hwan. Four years ago in Beijing, he became the first Korean to win swimming gold – taking the 400m free as well as silver in the 200m – and there are some who believe he has the ability to become the Game's biggest party pooper by butting in on the much-trumpeted duel between the US giants, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Park offered an exhaustive reminder of his immense potential earlier this year when he won the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle at the final US Grand Prix meeting in Santa Clara. Phelps was not competing but at the same event in 2011, Park beat him.
The 22-year-old has spent time training in Australia and France before arriving in London last Saturday. Like his team-mates, his practice schedule has been intense – he has described it as "painful" – but his ambition is grand. He wants the ultimate bullseye: Olympic gold earned via a world record.
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