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Korea loses its grip at 2017 World Judo Championships

Sept 06,2017
이미지뷰
From left: The Korean mixed judo team, far right, pose on the stadium after winning a bronze. Kim Min-jeong, center, pose for a picture after winning a bronze medal in women’s 78 kilograms (172 pounds). An Chang-lim, in center, pose for a picture after winning a bronze medal in men’s 73 kilograms at the World Championship. [YONHAP]
Korea has always been a strong judo competitor at the World Judo Championship - until this year.

Korea is ranked third overall in terms of total medal count in the event, with Japan holding 335 medals, France holding 165 and Korea holding 97. But at this year’s competition, which ended on Monday in Budapest, Hungary, Korea came away in 14th place with four bronze medals.

Two hopefuls failed to medal at all.

Jeon Seung-beom made it to the third round of the men’s 60 kilograms (132 pounds), losing 0-1 to Naohisa Takato of Japan, who ultimately won gold. And An Baul, who won silver in the men’s 66 kilograms at the 2016 Olympics, lost 1-11 to Vazha Margvelashvili of Georgia, who tied for bronze with Tal Flicker of Israel while Hifume Abe of Japan won gold.

Then there were the two male judoka who did medal.

An Chang-lim tied for bronze with Ganbaataryn Odbayar of Mongolia in the men’s 75 kilograms, while Soichi Hashimoto of Japan won gold. And Gwak Dong-han tied for bronze with Ushangi Margiani of Georgia in the men’s 90 kilograms, while Nemanja Majdov of Serbia won gold.

In the women’s division, Kim Min-jeong tied for bronze with Iryna Kindzerska of Azerbaijan in the women’s 78+ kilograms, while Yu Song of China won gold. And in mixed events, South Korea tied for bronze with France, while Japan won gold.

This disappointing performance is a follow-on from Korea’s display at the Rio Olympics, where the team failed to win any gold for the first time in 16 years, but not winning gold at the World Championship is considered a greater shock, as Korea has won a total of six gold medals at the world championships since 2009.

Throughout the Olympics, Korea has won a total of 43 medals - 11 gold, 16 bronze and silvers - winning most from the men’s national team. At the 2012 London Olympics, the men’s national team managed to win two gold medals and a bronze.

As the World Championship is considered one of the two biggest events for judoka, results at the event are used to predict Olympic winners. Interestingly, Lee Won-hee, a gold medalist at 2004 Olympics in Athens, won gold at the 2003 World Championship in men’s 73 kilograms. Kim Jae-bum also won gold at two consecutive world championships before winning gold at the 2012 Olympics in London in men’s 81 kilograms.

But based on Korea’s performance this year, it is unlikely to expect gold at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games or 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Many judoka predicted this was only a matter of time.

During the Rio Olympics, four judoka representing Korea were ranked first in their weight divisions, but none managed to win gold. Some claim their poor performance is the result of competing in too many tournaments, with the Korea Judo Association making judoka compete in tournament after tournament.

For instance, less than a week after the completion of the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, the Korean national team had to compete in the World Championship. Subsequently, An Baul and Gwak Dong-han, the two most likely judoka to win gold at the World Championships, had to compete in back-to-back events.

But this argument doesn’t explain how Japan, which also had athletes, such as Shoichiro Mukai, compete in both events, did well in both.

Whatever the explanation, one thing is clear - Korea is falling behind as a judo nation.

After the Olympics, in October, the Korean Judo Association hired Keum Ho-yeon as new head coach of the Korean national team, along with An Jeong-hwan and Kim Young-hoon. Since Wang Ki-chun and Kim Jae-bum retired, An and Kim Young-hoon focused on developing younger players. But Korea is yet to find judoka with the ability to fill the gap in men’s 81 kilograms.

Meanwhile, Japan, also going through a generation change, has developed a number of young judoka and won four gold medals in seven divisions.

“Looking at Korean judo, it’s true that I’m concerned about the Asian Games or Tokyo Olympics,” said Ahn Byeong-keun, gold medalist at 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “We’ll figure out a solution soon.”

BY PIH JOO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]