SEOUL, July 31 (Xinhua) — South Korea expects to stand out as one of the Asian sports powerhouses at the Beijing Games opening next week, officials and experts predicted here on Thursday. South Korea's traditional stronghold lies in archery and taekwondo, and is eyeing a first-ever gold in swimming at Beijing Olympics, proving its upgrading.
South Korea plans to send over 260 athletes to the Games that begin on August 8. Finishing fourth and winning a dozen golds in the 1988 Seoul Games, the country has almost consistently made it into the final top-ten rankings in medal counts in the last 24 years and seeks a similar feat in Beijing.
With archery accounting for three of nine golds South Korea won in Athens four years ago, officials say the sport is likely to remain for the country a "crop of gold" as South Koreans like to call it.
"Our archers are in their best form yet and think they can get their hands on two to three gold medals out of four available in the Olympics," said Ban Mi-hye, a Korea Archery Association official.
Athens gold medalist Park Sung-hyun and 12-arrow world record holder Yoon Ok-hee will lead South Korean women's squad while male archers, including Im Dong-hyun and Lee Chang-hwan, will try to head off China's rising presence in the sport.
"China will be on us in every game. Archery is no different," Ban said, adding that even though China has made consistent effortsto narrow the gap in archery, South Korea's advantage will remain firm.
Taekwondo, a martial art originating in Korea that became part of the Games in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, is another field in South Korea's favor.
But the number of golds South Korea has clinched over the decade has continuously dwindled — three in Sydney and two in Athens — and experts say even a small mistake in a match can cost South Korean athletes a gold.
Still expecting South Korea will harvest at least two golds in taekwondo, which offers eight, Jeon said host China and Africa's Mali will most likely threaten the South Korean squad while women's two-time world champion Hwang Kyung-seon represents South Korea's best medal hope.
Two South Koreans stand out as heavy favorites in other sports are teenage swimmer Park Tae-hwan and woman weightlifter Jang Mi-ran.
Specialists have long argued the 19-year-old Park will make history in Beijing by becoming the first to bring South Korea a swimming gold at Olympics, a prediction supported by the fact U.S. champion Michael Phelps has decided to forgo the men's 400-meter freestyle, where Park holds an Asian record.
Jang, the 25-year-old world record holder in the women's 75-kilogram, is also enjoying a brighter prospect of a gold in Beijing.
Other sports in which South Korea looks forward to winning golds include judo, shooting, wrestling, badminton, gymnastics, handball, table tennis, boxing, hockey and fencing, according to the Korean Sports Council.