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Reigning world judo champ dreams of Olympic gold before sleep

All Headlines 18:40 June 21, 2016

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, June 21 (Yonhap) -- Before he goes to sleep, there is one thing South Korean judoka Gwak Dong-han always does. He imagines himself standing on the top of podium at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.

"I always think about myself at the Rio Games," Gwak said on Tuesday at the National Training Center in Seoul. "I want to have a gold medal around my neck."

Gwak, who competes in the men's under-90kg, is indeed a gold medal favorite at the Rio Games. The 24-year-old has been gearing up for his maiden Olympics in style. Last year, he captured both the European Open and Gwangju Summer Universiade before winning the World Judo Championships in Kazakhstan. This May, he triumphed at the Asian Judo Championships in Kuwait, winning all his matches by ippon.

Gwak fell to No. 2 in the latest world rankings while his Japanese rival Mashu Baker took the top spot. But Gwak said this doesn't bother him, but it gnaws at him that he has only beaten Baker once, while losing twice.

"Regardless of the rankings, I think judokas at the Olympics have the same level of skills," he said. "I'm especially cautious about the Japanese. I analyze their matches a lot."

Just like many South Korean judokas going to the Rio Games, Gwak was a sparring partner for seniors in the past. Four years ago, he was a training partner for Song Dae-nam, who won the gold medal in men's under-90kg at the London Games.

Song, who claimed the gold at the age of 33 in his maiden Olympics, is now Gwak's coach.

"I'm using and learning (Song's) techniques and it really helps me a lot," Gwak said. "His matches four years ago inspired me to go for the Olympic gold medal."

Gwak admits there are concerns before entering the Rio Games, but he is confident of finishing atop the podium with a mindset that he first had as a national team athlete.

"I feel a little pressure about not winning the gold medal and not showing all of my skills," he said. "But I won't forget the basics and my original goal as an athlete."

With the Rio Games less than 50 days away, Gwak said he is now focusing on managing his condition. He knows he is being watched by his opponents, but Gwak said he will just perform as he has trained.

"My forte is that I have long arms and feet and I have good shoulder throw techniques," he said. "I don't have an aggressive style. I usually focus on defense and attack the opponents in the latter part of the match."

Gwak said he is aware of finger and wrist injuries, with pains lingering after training. But he believes his efforts will pay off in the end.

"When I'm going through rigorous workouts, I have no thoughts, but only focus on the training," he said. "I have prepared for the Olympics for a long time and since this is my first Olympics, I will put my best efforts forward."


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