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Dreaming of gold medals in Daegu

Korean sprinters target 4x100m success at world championships


On another bitterly cold morning last week in northeast Seoul, the streets were almost empty. It was too cold even for exercise.

Inside the Taeneung Training Center, however, a group of sprinters were warming up by jogging around the running track. Despite the temperature, beads of sweat rolled from their foreheads as they started running at full pace.

From last December, they have been staying at the national athletes’ village in Taeneung and training for this summer’s World Championships in Daegu, according to Moon Bong-gi, the head coach of the Korean national athletics team.

Moon said he kept the runners on a rigorous schedule, putting them through six-hours of training everyday, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day. 
Moon Bong-gi, head coach of the national athletics team, s ays the Da egu World Championships will be a turning point for athletics in Korea. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Moon Bong-gi, head coach of the national athletics team, s ays the Da egu World Championships will be a turning point for athletics in Korea. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

And while the country is slipping into a week-long holiday for the Lunar New Year, the sprinters are heading to Thailand for training.

“There is no time to waste in getting ready for the Daegu Championships,” the hard-nosed coach told The Korea Herald.

Daegu, some 300 kilometers south of Seoul, is staging the 13th IAAF World Championships from Aug. 27-Sept. 4 in 2011.

The biannual event is one of the world’s top three sporting events along with the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. More than 3,500 athletes and officials, including thee-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, will be competing at Korea’s first ever world athletic competition.
Korean national team sprinters warm up at the running track on Jan. 26 at the Taeneung Training Center in Seoul. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Korean national team sprinters warm up at the running track on Jan. 26 at the Taeneung Training Center in Seoul. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Becoming a champion in such a prestigious competition is a sprinter’s dream. For Korean athletes, however, even qualifying for the competition will be a huge achievement given the country’s current level of competitiveness.

The IAAF, the sport’s governing body, recently announced the qualification bar for Daegu. There are two qualifying criteria for Daegu― A and B-standards.

Each member country can send a maximum three athletes who have reached the higher A-standard, or only one athlete with a B-standard record.

The men and women’s 100 meters A-standards, for instance, are at 10.18 and 11.29 seconds respectively and B-standards are at 10.25 and 11.38 seconds.

Moon acknowledged that the qualifying standards for the Daegu Championships, particularly the short-distance running events, are still very tough for Korean athletics.

Korea’s 100 meters record is at 10.23 seconds, while Usain Bolt of Jamaica holds the world record of 9.58 seconds.

“In all honesty, 10.23 is still pretty poor time for the World-level,” said Moon.

“Our aim is not just to qualify for the event, but to break into the finals. So that we could at least show something to our home supporters,” he added.

“The odds of going through finals in the 4x100m relay are considerably higher than in the 100m or 200m individual.”

The current Korean record in 4x100m relay is 39.43, which was set in 1988. It is not even close to the qualifying standards of 39.20 for Daegu.

“For the past years, we’ve only focused on individual events, never care about the relay. That is why the record is so poor.”

But once the sprinters start to get proper training for the relay, the record will be broken soon, Moon claimed.

In an effort to break into world-class competition, the Korean sprinters will now spend nearly three months in Thailand, hoping their work there will pay dividends in Daegu.

“Thailand has been dominant in the relay events in Asia. They have the best trainers, and the weather and location is also good. It has everything we need to be able to prepare for the training.

“Our aim is to break into the 39.20 in April, and make into the finals in Daegu,” he added.

Kim Gook-young, 19, who broke Korea’s 100-meter record last June, which had lain intact for 31 years, said he will work day and night to focus on 4x100m relay.

“Last year was one of huge highs as well as some lows,” Kim explained.

“Obviously failing to make an impact on the Asian Games was hugely disappointing, but now I am focused on preparation for the Daegu Championships.

“I feel a lot of pressure at the moment, but I know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he added.

The last World Championships in Berlin ended in disappointment, as all 19 Korean athletes were knocked out in preliminary rounds.

“We still lag far behind the world level, but I believe this year will be a turning point. We’ll prove this at the Daegu Championships,” said Moon.

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)
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