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S. Korea looking to topple Japan again as countdown to 2018 Asian Games nears 30 days

All Headlines 09:00 July 17, 2018

SEOUL, July 16 (Yonhap) -- By nature, athletes are a competitive bunch. No one goes into events just hoping to finish in second place.

But South Korean athletes set to compete at the Aug. 18-Sept. 2 Asian Games, which will be co-hosted by Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia, are also realistic. They know China has a stranglehold in the Asian Games medal tables -- it has won every medal race since Delhi 1982 -- and the best they can hope for is to rank second behind the continental giant for the sixth consecutive Asiad.

The countdown to the quadrennial event will reach 30 days on Thursday, and the goal for South Korea, in the words of Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) President Lee Kee-heung, is "clear." It's to lock down second place in the medal standings.

South Korea will send 779 athletes in 39 of 40 sports -- the lone exception being bridge -- and the KSOC has laid out specific medals targets of at least 65 gold, 71 silver and 72 bronze medals.

In this Associated Press photo, Indian athletes and sports officials pose with the torch for the 2018 Asian Games near the India Gate in New Delhi on July 15, 2018. The 18th Asian Games will be co-hosted by Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia, from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2. (Yonhap)

In a media day event last week, Lee also admitted beating Japan again won't be easy this time, since South Korea's long-time sporting rival has made some big investments across sports. Japan has sent second-tier athletes to some recent Asian Games, and its top stars have often skipped the continental event if world championships or other international events coincided with the Asian event. But with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo fast approaching, Japan's top athletes will likely use the Asian Games as a stage to see how they stack up against their regional foes.

By the KSOC estimate, Japan could grab as many as 60 gold medals, just a few shy of South Korea's target. At the previous Asian Games in Incheon, some 40 kilometers west of Seoul, South Korea grabbed 79 gold medals to rank second, while Japan finished third with 47 gold.

Jakarta houses venues for athletics, badminton, basketball, swimming, baseball, archery and fencing, among other events. Palembang will host sports, including football, tennis, bowling, beach volleyball, rowing and shooting.

In this file photo from Sept. 19, 2014, the South Korean delegation, led by flagbearer Kim Hyeon-woo, enters the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Some 10,000 athletes and officials from 45 nations are expected to compete for medals in 463 events in 40 sports.

Another point of interest for sports fans here will be the joint march by the South and North Korean delegations at the opening ceremony, and fielding of unified Korean teams in women's basketball, rowing and canoeing.

The Koreas also marched behind the Korean Unification Flag at the opening ceremony for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics south of the border in February this year. Their joint march in Jakarta will be the 11th such occasion at an international multi-sport event.

And for the first time in Asian Games history, the Koreas will compete as one. They combined their women's hockey teams at PyeongChang 2018, but whereas the joint hockey team was badly overmatched, the Koreas at the three Asian Games sports could grab some medals.

The Korean athletes will train together in the South prior to the Asian Games.

This EPA file photo from July 28, 2016, shows the logo of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia, presented during a press conference in Jakarta. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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