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Women’s volleyball squad earns place at Olympics

Korea hoping for team sports medals after leaving Rio with none
Jan 14,2020
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The Korean women’s volleyball team celebrates after defeating Thailand to win the Asian Olympic qualifier at Korat Chatchai Hall in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, on Sunday. With a win, the women’s team will compete at the Olympics for the third consecutive time. [YONHAP]
Three gold, eight silver and four bronze.

That’s the total number of medals Korea has won in team sports since the women’s volleyball team picked up the first, a bronze, at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Korea had been winning at least one medal in team sports since then, bar the 2016 Rio Olympics when it walked away empty-handed in team sports competitions.

At the Tokyo Olympics, there are nine group sports - baseball, softball, football, volleyball, basketball, handball, hockey, water polo and rugby sevens - and Korea has set its sights on a comeback.

Of those eight, Korea has already qualified for spots to compete in baseball, women’s handball, men’s rugby and women’s volleyball, while the men and women’s hockey and softball and women’s rugby team have failed to qualify. Qualifiers for the remaining sports are currently ongoing.

Most recently on Sunday, the Korean women’s volleyball team defeated Thailand 3-0 to win the Asian Olympic women’s volleyball qualification tournament in Thailand. As only the winner of the Asian qualifier was given a spot at the Olympics, the win for the women’s team also earned them a place at the games for the third consecutive time.

Looking at the Korean women’s volleyball team’s performance at the past two Olympics, they just missed the podium by finishing fourth at the 2012 London Olympics and advanced to the quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The Korean men’s volleyball team saw their dream of earning a spot at the Olympics for the first time in 20 years dashed after the national team, ranked 24th, lost 3-2 to Iran on Saturday.

In football, the Korean men’s U-23 football team is currently competing at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship in Thailand. Although head coach Kim Hak-bum failed to add young players in the European league like Lee Kang-in and Paik Seung-ho, the team secured their spot in the knockout stage.

In women’s football, the third round of the qualifier will kick off in Jeju, starting from Feb. 3 and going until Feb. 9. As North Korea, who was assigned in Group A with the South, decided not to compete, it is very likely that South Korea will finish first in Group A. In the semifinal, Korea will play a home-and-away series against the second-ranked team from Group B.

The 19th-ranked Korean women’s basketball team will play their final qualifier from Feb. 6 to 9. After competing in a round-robin series against third-ranked Spain, eighth-ranked China and 18th-ranked England, the top three teams will advance to the Olympics. Despite being the lowest ranked team, Korea expects to finish within the top three with the return of Park Ji-soo.

The 30th-ranked men’s basketball team will compete in their world qualifier in June, but they have a tougher road ahead of them. Only the winner between six teams will earn a spot at the Olympics.

The men’s handball team, who just missed out on a spot at the games by finishing second at the Asian qualifier, will compete at the world qualifier starting from April 17 to 19. Korea will play Norway, Spain and Chile with only the top two teams heading to the Olympics.

The men and women’s water polo teams will compete in the Asian qualifier in February and the world qualifier in March, but it’s highly unlikely that they will qualify as they are ranked way behind other competing teams.

But qualifying for spots at the Olympics doesn’t up Team Korea’s chances of taking home any medals.

Most of the nation’s hopes for a medal lie on baseball. As there will only be six teams competing at the Olympics, not much sets them apart in terms of strategies and skills. Also, major league players can’t compete at the Olympics during this time. As baseball was removed from the Olympics since 2008 Beijing, Korea enters the Games as defending champion.

Despite Korea’s previous Olympic success in women’s handball, it’s not looking promising for the upcoming games. A generation change has led to a weaker team, and because of this Korea finished 10th at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 13th at the world championship last year.

The Korean rugby team earned their spot at the Olympics for the first time in history, but as they are ranked 31st in the world ranking, picking up a win throughout the tournament is probably going to be their goal.

Although Korea’s U-23 football team hasn’t secured their spot yet, once they get to compete, they have a chance for medal. The Tokyo Olympics has an age limit of players under 23 years old, but each team is allowed three wild cards, where they can add three players of any age over 23.

Back at the 2012 London Olympics, Team Korea won bronze, and at the 2016 Rio Olympics, they advanced to the quarterfinals.

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]