Korea Hoping for First Flush of Success at Athletics Worlds in Daegu

      August 25, 2011 07:27

      Korea, China and Japan have amassed a wealth of medals at the Olympic Games to account for an aggregate 6.6 percent of all the podium finishes, but it is a different story at the Athletics World Championships, where they have only bitten a 2.9 percent chunk out of the overall trophy table. Korea, for example, has yet to win a single medal at the biennial Worlds, which it will begin hosting for the first time on Saturday in Daegu.

      Yet the three countries have collected 1,087 medals during the Summer and Winter Olympics, and their athletes continue to add to their success with each respective four-year cycle. At the last Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, for example, they won a combined 156 medals to account for 16 percent of the total medals and cement their stature on the world stage.

      But athletics is not their strong point. From the first Athletics Worlds in Helsinki, Finland in 1983 to the latest edition in Berlin, Germany in 2009, Korea, China and Japan have managed to win just 47 medals. This suggests a somewhat gloomy outlook for the three neighbors and rivals at the upcoming competition.

      Sprinter Usain Bolt strikes his trademark bow-and-arrow pose with supporters in Korean costume in Daegu on Aug. 21, ahead of the 2011 IAAF World Championships which begin Saturday. /Yonhap

      Korean, Chinese and Japanese athletes are no match for heavyweights from the U.S. and Jamaica in the sprint races, while Kenyan and Ethiopian runners dominate the middle- to long-distance running events. In addition, European athletes have a stranglehold on throwing and jumping. But Korea, China and Japan have their own agendas this month.

      China intends to repeat its success back in 1993, when its female athletes led by coach Ma Junren claimed the gold medal in the women's 1,500 m, 3,000 m and 10,000 m races. That led to four gold, two silver and two bronze medals for China, ranking it second in the overall standings. But Ma's squad subsequently fell apart due to a number of scandals, and China has languished in track and field ever since.

      This time around, China is betting on Liu Xiang in the men's 110 m hurdles. Liu won the silver medal at the Worlds in Helsinki in 2005, and seized gold in Osaka in 2007. But he did not compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to a nagging Achilles heel injury, and also skipped the last Worlds in Berlin in 2009 with an injured thigh.

      Liu is aiming to reclaim his title in Daegu, however, to restore China's pride. Other gold medal candidates from the country include Liu Xiangrong, in the female shot put, and men's walkers such as Wang Hao and Chu Yafei, who will bid to end the country's 10-year gold medal drought in race walking.

      Meanwhile, Japan is aiming to make its mark in niche events such as the men's 400 m relay. Powered by its organizational strength, Japan won the bronze medal in Beijing in 2008 and rose to fourth place in the overall rankings in Berlin in 2009. The Japanese men's relay team is led by pretty boy Eriguchi Masashi (23).

      Korea has the most humble objective among the three Asian countries. It is just aiming to get its athletes a place in the finals. The most promising athlete is Park Tae-kyung (31) in the men's hurdles. Park, who won the bronze in the 110-m hurdles at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010, is gunning to beat his record of 13.48 seconds by a tenth of a second. That would be enough to place him on the list of finalists.

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