The once-buzzing two week session of the summer Olympics has finally come to a close, and South Korea was not an exception for bringing a wide array of national sports heroes into the country’s frontier. Standing proudly in front of the podium facing hundreds of journalists and fans, the athletes attended the press conference on August 24th, celebrating the end of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and South Korea’s outstanding accomplishments overall.
Placed eighth out of 206 countries, South Korea managed to stay rooted in the grounds of Top 10 for four years straight, all the way back from Athens 2004 to Beijing 2008, London 2012, and today at Rio 2016. Also, out of 28 sports categories with the two recent additions of golf and rugby, South Korea was able to bring home 9 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 9 bronze medals overall. Their solid effort clearly evident, the athletes never ceased to amaze the audience with their hard-earned achievements shining brightly on a string of green around their necks.
First off, South Korea danced all over their rivals to complete a clean sweep of all four titles in the Olympic archery event yet again in Men’s Team/Individual and Women’s Team/Individual.
Continuing their effortless domination in the venue, the female team has now won the event every time since its introduction in 1988 Seoul, proving themselves a cut above all other opponents. The trio of Bobae Ki, Misun Choi and Hye-Jin Chang came in by unstoppable storm, shooting brilliantly to ease to a 5-1 victory over Russia in the final round and sent the crowd into euphoric hurrah. In addition, the seamless threesome of Woo-Jin Kim, Bon-Chan Ku and Seung-Yun Lee roared to a 6-0 win to garner South Korea’s fifth team title and fourth in the last five Olympics, which also paid back for the grief of their failure to make it to the final in 2012. These consecutive medals definitely served as a notable evidence that archery is the country’s most successful event ever in the summer Olympics.
Unprecedented success followed too, however. The audience failed to hide their amazement when fencing newbie Sang-Young Park reeled off five consecutive points to claim the unlikely comeback of South Korea’s third gold medal, just on the verge of defeat by 14-10 against Geza Imre of Hungary. It only took a matter of seconds to crush the seemingly insurmountable match for Park to secure his 15th point of his miraculous victory. After his remarkable performance, Park is officially the second South Korean man to win an individual Olympic gold in fencing, and the very first in the Men’s Individual Epee.
Another round of medals was brought in by star shooter Jong-Oh Jin, when an unexpected miscue was not enough to hinder his goal for a third straight gold in Men’s 50-meter Pistol competition. Also, Korean Taekwondo players revved up their game by winning 5 medals for all 5 participants, with 2 proud golds attained by Hye-Ri Oh and So-Hee Kim as well as 3 bronze medals to top it all off.
More legendary Olympic records were engraved into history in Rio, including the return of golf back into the Games for one of its 28 programmes. This time, LPGA star In-bee Park won gold in women’s golf and defeated world’s No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, marking the very first medal in history after 112 years of non-inclusion. Park has won 7 majors, including the career Grand Slam, and earlier this year became the youngest golfer in history to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Now she has the first gold medal awarded in women’s golf since Paris 1900, the only time women previously competed in golf before at the Olympics.
Amidst the flurry of outstanding accomplishments and world records, several disappointments were inevitable as well. South Korea had to face a devastating defeat against Honduras by 1-0, failing to advance to the semifinals of the men’s soccer tournament. Furthermore, South Korea bowed out of the quarterfinals in women’s volleyball, unable to pursue its first Olympic volleyball medal since the team’s bronze in 1976 in Montreal 40 years ago. Rhythmic gymnast Yeon-Jae Son also failed to seize her dream of earning a medal by finishing fourth in the individual all-around final by merely 0.685 points apart from third place Ganna Rizatdinova of Ukraine. However, among the traditionally strong Russian competitors, Son’s Olympics record was by far the best out of all the other Asian gymnasts.
Now it comes to question what significance these accomplishments actually carries to the medalists themselves and the nation. The Olympics urges athletes to get higher, faster, and stronger, pushing them to reach the peak and even beyond the human potential accompanied by their intense training and hardcore dedication. However, one needs to realize that the Games is not all about earning a gold, let alone any color of the medal. For an athlete, the Olympics is everything, four years of his or her life to prepare for a tiny hole, and once it closes, there is not much time for re-qualification. Despite the media frenzy motivating the contestants to perform at their best, the chances are that they might not be so lucky this year round. This brings to a conclusion that the Olympics is really all about trying your best, creating memories, building new experiences, and most of all – having fun.
– Ashley Kim (’18)