Japan is so far ahead, the gap is widening

The reason why the Korean team’s goal for the Hangzhou Asian Games was ‘3rd place’ from the start.
Korea, which was in second place until 2014, was overtaken by Japan in 2018. The

Korean national team team for the Hangzhou Asian Games held a ceremony on September 12. This Asian Games will be held five years after the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Games due to COVID-19. It opens on September 23 in six cities, including Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, China, and closes on October 8. Korea will send a record-high number of athletes, 1,140, ​​to 39 sports.

The goal for this competition is ‘overall 3rd place’. Considering that the Asian Games will be a three-way match between Korea, China, and Japan, the goal of ‘third place’ is somewhat questionable. This is because they have acknowledged in advance that they cannot compete with China and Japan. At the Jakarta-Palembang Games, Korea placed third overall (49 gold, 58 silver, and 43 bronze), and fourth place at the time was Indonesia, which had the advantage of being the host country, with 31 gold medals (98 total medals).

When China is said to be the undisputed number one in Asian sports, the battle for second place has always been between Korea and Japan. During the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, Korea, which had the advantage of being the host country, came in second place with 93 gold medals (55 silver medals), narrowly behind China (94 gold medals). At that time, the overall number of medals (224) surpassed China (222) by two. But now it is difficult to overcome China. China has always ranked first in the Asian Games since the 1982 Games in New Delhi, India.

Except for the 1994 Hiroshima (Japan) Games, Korea has always maintained second place from 1986 to the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. However, the tide turned in the 2018 competition. At that time, Japan won 75 gold medals, 56 silver medals, and 74 bronze medals. In terms of the number of gold medals, there was a difference of 26 points between Korea and Korea. It was the first time in 36 years since the New Delhi Games that Korea recorded less than 50 gold medals at the Asian Games. In badminton, which was undergoing a generational change, there were no gold medals for the first time in 40 years, causing a huge shock.

Korea-Japan, always fateful battle for ‘second place’ in the Asian Games

Sports industry officials explain this because “Japan has invested a lot in sports ahead of the Tokyo Olympics (held in 2021) to be held in the country.” It is similar to how Korea gradually increased its sports infrastructure by hosting the Asian Games (1986) and the Olympics (1988) in succession. At the Tokyo Olympics, Japan ranked third overall (27 gold medals), following the United States (39 gold medals) and China (38 gold medals). It was the best performance ever in Olympic participation. On the other hand, Korea was tied for 15th place with Hungary in terms of number of gold medals (6).

At the Tokyo Olympics, Korea only won gold medals in archery (4), fencing (1), and gymnastics (1). He did not win a single gold medal in Taekwondo or Judo. Japan ranked first in a variety of sports, including judo, table tennis, boxing, gymnastics, track and field, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, and skateboarding. The difference in gold medals between Korea and Japan is 21. It is a gap that cannot be explained by Japan’s home advantage alone. This is why Korea set its sights on third place, last among the three countries of Korea, China, and Japan, in the Hangzhou Asian Games, a comprehensive international competition held two years after the Tokyo Olympics.

At the Hangzhou Asian Games, Korea set its target number of gold medals at 45 to 50. This is roughly the same number as during the Jakarta-Palembang Games. As expected, expectations are placed on traditionally strong sports such as archery, fencing, taekwondo, and soft tennis. In addition, we hope for surprising results in swimming, where young swimmers such as Hwang Seon-woo are active.

The swimming team is hoping to win around five gold medals, led by Hwang Sun-woo, Kim Woo-jin, and Baek In-cheol. A total of 41 gold medals are at stake in swimming at this competition, and for Korea to achieve the expected results, it must defeat China and Japan. At the 2018 Games, Japan won 19 gold medals, the same as China. In terms of the total number of swimming medals, Japan (52) was ahead of China (50). Korea had only one gold medal (Kim Seo-young in the 200m women’s individual medley).

Korea cannot guarantee a gold medal in the Asian Games even in Taekwondo, but Japan is consistently showing results in Judo and Karate. Unlike Korea, which only relies on Woo Sang-hyuk, Japan has quite solid results in track and field as well. At the 2018 competition, he also won six gold medals (a total of 18 medals).

The prospects for gold medals are also bleak in ball sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, and volleyball. Although there is a strong motivation called ‘military service benefits’, soccer experts predict that even the quarterfinals of this tournament cannot be guaranteed. Baseball is also dominated by players under the age of 24 who have little experience in international competitions, so their performance is a question mark. In the case of women’s volleyball, where Kim Yeon-kyung put down the Taegeuk symbol, it is the first time since the 2006 Doha 스포츠토토Games that it is in danger of no medal. At the Asian Championships, which was a prelude to the Asian Games, they failed to advance to the semifinals for the first time in history. Men’s and women’s basketball falls behind China. We are in a situation where we only have to hope for a gold medal in women’s handball. But even handball is currently at a level where they can barely beat Japan.

Japan has established a basic plan and fostered athletes since 2011.

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has established a five-year sports basic plan since 2011 and has systematically prepared matters to achieve the policy goal of sports as a national strategy. Following the first plan (2012-16) in 2012 and the second plan (2017-21) in 2017, the third plan (2022-26) was established in 2022. Under a mid- to long-term strategy, a performance improvement support system was established to develop athletes to a level capable of competing in the Olympics, and the results were achieved at the Tokyo Olympics.

It is also noticeable that under the systematic system, the number of medal-winning categories has increased. At the 2012 London Olympics, medals were won in 13 events, but at the Tokyo Olympics, the number of medals was expanded to 20. Guaranteeing students’ ‘sports rights’, such as mandating that middle and high school students play one sport per person (one sport per person), also helped expand the base of sports. Japan’s third plan aims to ‘realize a vibrant and connected society through sports’.

Korea has shown signs of regression amid various trials and errors. Results from the recently held Asian Games and Olympics prove this. The Sports Council believes that if the gold medal gap with Japan is reduced to less than 10 at the Hangzhou Asian Games, it will be able to compete with Japan again for second place in Asia at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Is that really the case? Without the establishment of a mid- to long-term sports development policy that encompasses all aspects of student sports, the intense history of the ‘Korea-Japan War’ may become a thing of the past. Japan is far ahead in sports and policy.

The main team of the Hangzhou Asian Games will board a plane to Hangzhou on September 20th. After the Games are over, will they return with hope for the Paris Olympics to be held a year later, or will they return with the pain of frustration like they did at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago? What is clear is that citizens are ready to applaud hard work, not medals. Hangzhou, the five-year wait is approaching.

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