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Rising Japan, Plunging Korea

Posted August. 23, 2004 22:03,   


Japans` momentum is coming on strong in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Japan is currently holding 13 gold medals as of August 22 (local time), standing in third place in gold medals after China and the United States.

Japan has won the most gold medals in its Olympic history since the 13 gold medals it won in the 1972 Munich Olympics when it regained the forgotten prestige of being the "Power State of Sports," which it dominated in the 60`s and 70`s.

Japan won gold medals in eight classes out of a total of 14 classes in judo, and also added three gold medals in swimming as Kitajima Kosuke took the double (100m, 200m) breaststroke championships. Japan, which obtained gold medals in the women`s marathon and men`s group gymnastics competition, appears to be set to add three to five more gold medals in baseball, women`s wrestling, gymnastics and softball. In particular, Japanese athletes in the women`s wrestling category are considered favorites in three out of four classes.

As Japan is making rapid strides, Korea has won only five gold medals. Even if Korea puts up a good fight down the road in tae kwon do, wrestling, and the men`s marathon, the outlook of securing gold medals seems to cease at five or six, and the total number of gold medals might barely pass 11. Therefore, the Athens Olympics may be recorded as the competition in which Korea trails Japan in gold medal standings for the first time since the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a span of 16 years. In the Seoul Olympics, Korea won 12 gold medals, finishing in fourth place, while on the other hand, Japan ended up with four gold medals and 14th place.

The launch of the 2001 "Golden Plan" and the rebirth of nation-oriented "Elite Sports" are counted as key elements of Japan’s strong influence. Also, scientific athlete management such as analyzing athletes’ movements in track and swimming with the newest cameras, and consultations with judo players by sports psychologists played a part in the Japanese improvements.

Sung-Won Joo swon@donga.com