Track and field medals remain elusive for South Korea

October 2, 2014
Choi Ye-eun (Yonhap)

Despite settling for 4th in women’s pole vault, Choi Ye-eun’s popularity is soaring. (Yonhap)

INCHEON —  South Korean track and field athletes are off to a disappointing start at home.

Sprinter Kim Kuk-young set a new Korean record of 10.23 seconds in the men’s 100 m — for the first time in 31 years — at the National Athletics Championship in June 2010, but he finished his race in 10.35 seconds in the semifinals on Sunday, failing to reach the final.

“I was in good condition. I cannot understand what went wrong,” Kim said after the race. “I should’ve focused on the 400 m relay race scheduled on Monday.”

South Korea’s Jin Min-sub also raised high anticipations of winning an Asiad title in the men’s pole vault when he set a new Korean record of 5.64 m during the Taiwan Open Athletics Championships in May last year.

Despite his confidence and hopes of winning gold and setting a new record, he had to settle for the bronze with 5.45 meter at the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium, Sunday. It was far below his best, the worst result among the nine competitions he participated in at home and abroad this year.

Jung Soon-ok, who won gold in the women’s long jump at the Guangzhou Asiad four years ago, ended up fourth this year with a disappointing 6.34 meter leap.

This is a disappointing result not just for individual athletes but also the country, given the number of medals available in the discipline.

A total of 47 gold medals were available in it at this year’s Asiad — the second-largest number following 53 in swimming.

However, South Korea has long remained an underdog in athletics at international competitions.

“Athletes tend to find it harder to improve records in bigger international competitions. Be it nervousness or something else, the reasons may vary,” an official on the South Korean athletics team said. “But hopefully, these star athletes will gain better results in major events such as the Asiad. It will be important to encourage not only themselves, but also younger talent who will compete for the country in the future.”

Medal tallies cannot explain all about athletes’ endeavors to prepare for international competitions. But the result so far seems to be far from what the South Korean athletics delegation aimed for — to win a total of 18 medals including three golds. As of the fourth day of the Asiad’s athletics events, South Korea has two silvers and four bronzes.

On Monday, Yeo Hosua, Cho Kyu-won, Oh Kyong-soo and Kim Kuk-young won their preliminary race in the men’s 400 m relay in 38.97 seconds.

On the following day, Kim Byoung-jun won the silver in the men’s 110 m hurdles in 13.43 seconds and Kim Deok-hyeon also won the silver in the men’s long jump with 7.9 meters.

In the women’s pole vault, Lim Eun-ji brought an expected bronze medal to the country, adding another to the existing three bronzes — one by Jin in the men’s pole vault and the other two from Kim Hyun-sub and Jeon Yeong-eun in the men’s and women’s 20 km walk.