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Judokas ready to compete for Olympic gold

Judo made its very first appearance at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Except for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, it has been a competition sport in every Summer Olympics since. Korea won its first Olympic medal for judo in 1964, when Kim Eui-tae took the bronze medal in the men’s 80- kilogram middleweight division. Since then, Korea has clinched nine gold, 14 silver, and 14 bronze medals, ranking third in the Olympic medal standings.

Following taekwondo, judo is one of the most popular martial arts in Korea. Olympic judo competitions always attract huge crowds of spectators anywhere throughout the world. Matches won by a last-minute throw send the crowd into rapturous excitement and are the most thrilling of dramas. KOREA met the South Korean men’s national team and watched the next aspiring Olympic judoka stars in training.

The South Korean men's national judo team is perfecting their throwing techniques to win Olympic gold.

The South Korean men's national judo team is perfecting their throwing techniques to win Olympic gold.

KOREA visited Yong In University in Gyeonggido (Gyeonggi Province), south of Seoul, where the men’s national team was training. The judo training center at the College of Martial Arts was already filled with an army of students from the Judo Department dressed in blue judo uniforms, warming up for the day’s practice. Among the sea of blue, the national team athletes were readily visible in their white uniforms partnering up with the students. Yong In University is the only South Korean university that has an undergraduate judo department. Among the alumni are Olympic medalists and other international competition winners, making the university the most prestigious institution for Korean judo.

“Every day, the national team comes here to practice break falls and throwing skills with the students,” says Coach Jung Hun. “These Yong In University students are among the best judokas in Korea, and they make good partners for our national team. Some of the students here may be future judo stars.”

Wang Ki-chun (left) practices new moves with a student.

Wang Ki-chun (left) practices new moves with a student.

Coach Jung says the rigorous training and national tournaments are a major factor in keeping the national team among the top competitors in the world of judo. The team is currently ranked number three after Japan and France. Japanese judokas have the skill, and French judokas are renowned for their strength. South Korean judokas do not match their skills or strength, but have managed to stay near the top of the rankings by sheer determination.

“We have devised new training tactics and practices over the last few years,” adds Coach Jung. “Since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the South Korean men’s national team has won 70 percent of the international tournaments they have competed in.”

Based on the world rankings, which were updated after the Judo World Cup in Budapest last February, the men’s national team secured slots in all seven weight divisions for the London Olympics. The team no longer feels the pressure of having to qualify for the Olympic Games. Instead, individual team members must now face the challenge of having to compete against fellow teammates in the upcoming national trials to win a ticket to the London Olympic Games.

Two Olympic gold medalist prospects in men’s judo are former world champion Wang Ki-chun in the 73-kilogram division and current world number one Kim Jae-bum in the 81- kilogram division. They both won silver medals in the 2008 Olympics, but they are resolved to bring home Olympic gold this year.

*Article from Korea Magazine (April 2012)

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