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S. Korea keen on ending Olympic volleyball medal drought

All Headlines 14:34 July 12, 2016

JINCHEON, South Korea, July 12 (Yonhap) -- For the South Korean women's volleyball team competing in this year's Rio de Janeiro Summer Games, anything short of a medal will be a disappointment.

There were a dozen players on hand at a pre-Olympic press conference Tuesday at Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, about 90 kilometers south of Seoul, and they all spoke in one voice. They will be out to end the country's 40-year Olympic medal drought.

"The goal is to reach the podium," said captain Kim Yeon-koung, considered one of the world's most lethal attackers. "It's not going to be an easy challenge, but we all have the same sense of purpose and we're trying to enjoy ourselves."

Volleyball was first contested at a Summer Games in 1964 in Tokyo. South Korean women won bronze at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and it remains the country's only volleyball medal in the Olympics, men or women.

At the 2012 London Olympics, South Korea reached the semifinals for the first time since Montreal, but lost to Japan in straight sets. The two nations will meet again in the group stage in Rio.

Head coach Lee Jung-chul said that particular bit of history against Japan isn't lost on his players. He has also reminded his team that the year 2016 marks the centennial of the introduction of volleyball to South Korea, and winning an Olympic medal would be a fine way to celebrate the occasion.

"My job as the coach is to bring out the best in the players," Lee added. "I also have to help them increase their mental toughness to overcome adversity."

Kim, 28, said she would also love to compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but she wants to stay focused on the present for now.

"I am preparing for this Olympics as if it will be my last one," the Fenerbahce star said. "I hope such desperation will lead to good results."

Along with Kim, Yang Hyo-jin also suffered through the crushing defeat at the hands of Japan in London. She, too, spoke of desperation, saying the disappointment from four years ago will serve as fuel this time.

"We came close to winning a medal the last time," said Yang, who has led the South Korean V-League in blocks for the past seven consecutive seasons. "Unlike in the V-League, everyone competing in the Olympics will be a talented attacker. I have to study the opponents' patterns closely and set my game plan accordingly."

South Korea will open its quest for a medal against Japan on Aug. 6 in Group A. Other opponents will be: Russia on Aug. 8, Argentina on Aug. 10, Brazil on Aug. 12 and Cameroon on Aug. 14.

There are two groups of six in the Olympics and the top-four nations from each will reach the quarterfinals, which will start on Aug. 16.

Coach Lee said Brazil and Russia may be the cream of the crop in Group A, and insisted South Korea must beat Japan, Argentina and Cameroon to have a chance to advance to the knockout stage.

Kim Yeon-koung said the first match will be the most important one.

"We're confident against Japan because we've analyzed them thoroughly and practiced a great deal," she said. "It's a must-win match. We have to take the first match to go all the way to the final."

Lee Hyo-hee, the elder stateswoman on the team at 35, said if nothing else, South Korea will never be outworked by any team.

"Japan is a great defensive team, and we have to vary our offensive strategies to keep them off balance," Le said. "Above all, we'll play and compete harder than the Japanese."

The South Koreans will depart for the Netherlands on July 23 to set up a pre-Olympic camp there, and will face the Dutch national team twice in practice matches.

They are scheduled to land in Rio on July 29.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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