Why China and Japan Outperform Korea in Track and Field

      August 31, 2011 11:13

      A total of 60 Korean athletes are competing at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu. The country originally aimed to rank its 10 leading athletes within as many finals, but a series of disappointing performances now mean that achieving even 50 percent of this target will be something of a miracle. Few are seriously expecting the host to walk away with a medal when the tournament wraps up on Sunday.

      So far, only Kim Hyun-sub has made a final, placing sixth in the men's 20-km race walking event.

      Track and field is dominated by North and Central America (short-distance running), Africa (mid and long-distance running) and Europe (field sports). Asian athletes have been unable to rank at the top due to a number of factors including a lack of funding, interest and experience, and, in some areas, certain physical limitations.

      But Chinese and Japanese athletes are doing far better than their Korean counterparts at Olympic and other international sporting events.

      In the history of the World Championships in Athletics, China had collected a total of 29 medals (10 gold, 9 silver, and 10 bronze) as of Tuesday, while Japan had garnered 21 (4 gold, 6 silver and 11 bronze). 

      In terms of Asian records at the Worlds, China holds 24 (five men's records and 19 women's records and Japan holds seven (six men's records and one woman's record). These are in a total of 47 sporting events.

      ◆ China Pursues Diversification Strategy

      China, which has won a total of one gold (women's discus throwing) and one silver (men's 110-m hurdles) in Daegu, ranks at the top of Asia in track and field. And its athletes are not that far behind in terms of performance compared to their rivals from track and field powerhouses like Jamaica and the United States.

      During the 1970s and 80s, China picked its track and field athletes from women who come from rural farming villages and trained them into mid and long-distance runners by tapping into their desire to emerge from poverty through sports.

      The result was the stellar team of female athletes led by coach Ma Junren. Hardened by Ma's tough training regimen, the female athletes swept the medals in the women's 1,500-m, 3,000-m and 10,000-m races in Stuttgart, Germany in 1993.

      In September of that year, they set a new world record during the Chinese national matches. But as China's economy developed, the traditional approach in training lost its potency. Young Chinese no longer saw the need to emerge from poverty through the physically demanding area of track and field. In the six Worlds held from 1995 to 2005, China won only one gold medal.

      China sought to change this at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In order to boost public interest in track and field, it hosted various sporting events sponsored by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

      Beijing also turned to science to improve the performance of its athletes. The China Institute of Sport Science and other agencies sought to supplement the weaknesses of its track and field stars, including Liu Xiang in the men's 110-m hurdles.

      As a result, China managed to win four medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze) at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin. The country is now introducing further changes ahead of the Worlds in Beijing in 2015. It is creating track and field departments at universities by making it easier for students specializing in this area to gain admission.

      ◆ Japan Turns to Science

      Japan, which is fielding 50 athletes in 24 sporting events in Daegu, is also doing fairly well in terms of medals. On Monday, men's hammer thrower Koji Murofushi (37) won the gold medal, marking the first time a Japanese athlete has won a track and field event other than the marathon.

      Meanwhile, Chisato Fukushima (23) entered the semi-finals in the women's 100-m race, which was also a first for Japan.

      Japanese athletes also reached the finals in the men's and women's 10,000-m races and the women's 5,000-m race, as well as the semi-finals in the men's and women's 400-m hurdles. Japan is also aiming for a medal in the men's 400-m relay, in which it won a bronze at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

      The reason why Japan is doing better than Korea in track and field is because of its widespread base of athletes, attempts to improve performance through science and the passion of its athletes.

      More than 100 track and field events are taking place this year alone in Japan. While the number of Japanese track and field athletes, which peaked at 200,000, is steadily decreasing, schools make it mandatory for students to take part in track and field sports while constantly scouting for new talent.

      Scientific methods are also being constantly improved to boost the performance of track and field athletes. The Japan Institute of Sports Sciences brought top sprinter Asafa Powell of Jamaica to Japan in order to analyze him and improve the performance of its men's 100-m athletes.

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