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(2nd LD) (Olympics) S. Korean judo unable to live up to hype

All Headlines 06:03 August 13, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with final medal tally)
By Yoo Jee-ho

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 12 (Yonhap) -- It wasn't supposed to turn out this way for South Korean judo at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The country boasted four men occupying the No. 1 spots in the world rankings. On paper, they were all gold medal favorites. On paper, they should have contributed to the national team's goal of winning at least two titles. Even head coach Suh Joung-bok boasted South Korea had enough talent to win a medal in every weight class, and winning at least two gold medals was actually a modest goal.

Then again, judo is competed on mats, not paper.

South Korea closed out Friday's judo campaign in Rio without a gold medal, as Kim Sung-min in the men's +100kg and Kim Min-jeong in the women's +78kg both took quick exits. Kim later reached the bronze medal match through repechage, but she lost to Yu Song of China.

South Korea ended its Rio campaign won two silver medals and one bronze medal, its worst Olympic performance since the 2000 Sydney Games, where South Korea claimed two silver and three bronze medals.

The Olympics began ominously enough for South Korea last Saturday, as Kim Won-jin, world No. 1 in men's 60kg, lost in the quarterfinals.

Though Jeong Bo-kyeong won the surprising silver in the women's 48kg, Kim's early exit cast a cloud of doubt over how the rest of the men's team would fare.

On the second day, An Ba-ul, the top-ranked man in the 66kg, reached the final but lost to the 26th-ranked Fabio Basile of Italy.

An Chang-rim, world No. 1 in men's 73kg, didn't even get that far the following day, losing to Dirk van Tichelt of Belgium in the round of 16. He barely mounted any attack in the lethargic defeat.

On the same day, Kim Jan-di, ranked second in the women's 57kg, was also eliminated in the round of 16.

Two more judokas bit the dust Tuesday, putting more pressure on Gwak Dong-han, No. 1 in the men's -90kg, to end the gold drought.

Gwak cruised to the semifinals, but lost to Varlam Liparteliani of Georgia and had to settle for bronze.

Prior to Rio, most of the South Korean contenders had struggled against their Japanese rivals. Their goal for the Olympics was to avoid facing the Japanese early in their events -- possibly until the semifinals or the finals -- and that meant they had to secure high seeds for the draws.

And to do so, the South Koreans entered one international event after another to earn ranking points. On the flip side, it exposed their tactics and tendencies for other Olympic contenders to see before Rio, while also leaving the athletes banged up.

Meanwhile, the Japanese sat out minor events to avoid injuries, and though they didn't have any No. 1 on the men's side, they'd grabbed two gold medals before Friday.

As it happened, An Chang-rim, Gwak Dong-han and Kim Won-jin didn't even last long enough in their classes to run into Japanese.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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