Taekwondo Could Spur Final Gold Run
China and Japan are Asia's two top countries in terms of national power and economic size. But South Korea is likely to trail only China when it comes to the Olympics.
With the Beijing Games proceeding toward their final weekend, South Korea is closing in on a top-10 finish in the medal standings and is expected to regain the title as the No. 2 Asian nation in the Olympics.
As of Wednesday afternoon, South Korea ranked seventh in the medal standings with eight golds, 10 silvers and six bronzes, while Japan is one notch behind with eight golds, six silvers and eight bronzes.
South Korea got off to a dazzling Olympic start by claiming six gold medals in the first five days of the Beijing Games, placing third behind China and the United States.
Since then, however, Korea has added just two more golds, while Japan has consistently earned medals to move up to its current ranking.
During the remaining four days of the Games, South Korean athletes are expected to produce at least two more golds, raising hopes that they could end up with more than Japan, which sees medal possibilities in softball and gymnastics.
South Korea has high expectations for taekwondo, baseball and women's handball in its goals of garnering 10 golds and finishing in the top 10 of the standings.
With the exception of Lim Su-jeong, who will compete in the women's under 57-kilogram class, Korean taekwondo athletes have easy draws in the preliminaries.
Cha Dong-min avoided tough rivals in the men's over 80 kilograms, including world champion Keita Daba Modibo of Mali and Athens silver medal winner Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece.
Hwang Kyung-seon, a bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Games, should have easy matches in the women's 67-kilogram class until the semifinals, where she could meet Gwladys Patience Epangue of France. Hwang, the only Korean athlete in the sport to participate in two straight Olympics, has a 1-1 record against Epangue.
Son Tae-jin will not meet American standout Mark Lopez until the men's under 67-kilogram final.
Lim will open the Olympics with a bout against Taiwan's Su Li-wen. Su is the Asian champion and finished second at the 2005 World Championships.
``It is a little bit burdensome for taekwondo to play an important role in achieving a 10-10 goal, but we will try our best to help it,'' Korean coach Kim Sei-hyeok said.
The Korean women's handball team will square off against Norway in the semifinals.
After recording a 3-1-1 record in Group B, the Korean team, which has an average age of 34.7, secured its seventh consecutive Olympic semifinal berth with a 31-23 win against China Tuesday.
Norway, the 2006 European champion, finished first in Group A with a 5-0 record. Russia, which won Group B, will face Hungary in Thursday's other semifinal.
Korea has a 3-1 all-time record against Norway in the Olympics, but Norway rolled over Korea 35-24 on its way to finishing runner-up at the 2007 World Championships.
Korea's baseball team beat the Netherlands 10-0 Wednesday in a game that was stopped in the eighth inning because of a 10-run mercy rule.
Korea finished the preliminary round as the only undefeated team with a 7-0 record.
The Korean squad will face Japan, which it defeated 5-3 in a preliminary match, in the semifinals Friday.