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Can Korea Upstage China in Go Competition at Asiad?

Posted November. 05, 2010 11:12,   


China, the birthplace of the board game go, or baduk in Korea, recognized the traditional game as a sport a long time ago. It has searched for and cultivated go players as if nurturing gymnasts and swimmers.

Kong Jie and Gu Li, who each have the highest rank of ninth dan and are considered among the world’s top go players, also underwent an intensive training process.

Korean national go coach Yang Jae-ho said, “Korea is behind China but it’s better for go to be recognized as a sport to help develop the game. When go was designated an official event at this year`s Asian Games, most players welcomed the decision, including myself.”

Korea’s 10 go players comprise six ninth-dan men: Lee Chang-ho, Lee Se-dol, Cho Han-seung, Choi Cheol-han, Kang Dong-yun and Park Jeong-hwan. The four women on the team are Cho Hye-yeon (eighth dan); Lee Min-jin (fifth); Kim Yoon-young (second); and Lee Seul-a (first).

They compose an undisputed “dream team.” Except Lee Chang-ho and Lee Se-dol, who were picked as wild cards, the other players were selected through an intense screening process. The honor of making the national team and the ensuing personal pride have stimulated competition among players.

Go players have so many competitions to take part in, so they have little free time or the chance to attend training camp. Competitions are deemed the best form of training but players took time out from their busy schedules and got together several times to practice for the Asian Games.

After completion of the screening process in mid-July, players have convened monthly study meetings since August. They held a joint three-day training camp in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province, in August and took part in a four-day training session at Taereung Athletic Village in Seoul.

Once a competition begins, coaches cannot communicate with or stay by players. They must watch the game via monitors outside the competition venue. There are no breaks or halftime in go games.

Coach Yang expressed worry over China’s possible efforts to bash Korea. Use of Tiger Balm ointment is a measure China might seek to employ.

Lee Seul-a was defeated partially by this ointment at the World Women’s Go Championship in China in September. A Chinese player in Lee Seul-a’s second-round match continued to apply the ointment during the game, and Lee ended up losing her concentration and composure due to the strange smell.

Yang said, “If a Chinese player applies the ointment again this time, I will file a protest.”

The adoption of go as an Asian Games sport was hugely influenced by China. The move represents Beijing’s intent to promote its status as the game’s motherland by defeating Korea on its home turf.

Yang said, “Chinese officials are highly wary of Korea. The entire Korean go community has made sacrifices and given support to help the national team at the upcoming competition. I want to win gold medals at least for the sake of repaying what they’ve given us.”

Korea is targeting two gold and one silver medal in three categories, including the men’s and women’s group competitions and pairs, a lofty goal considering the team’s capacity. Nevertheless, the team cannot afford to back down given the high expectations of Korean go fans.