That a top-six finish at the World Athletics Championships can be seen as a disappointment for Woo Sang-hyeok indicates just how far the South Korean high jumper has come.
It wasn't that long ago when the goal for any Korean high jumper competing at a worlds was to make it out of the preliminary phase and qualify for the final. Woo then raised the figurative bar high by winning silver at last year's World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. South Korea, a country long without an international track and field star, could suddenly begin dreaming of seeing a world champion.
The medal came on the heels of a fourth-place finish at the 2021 Summer Olympics -- the best Olympic performance by a South Korean high jumper -- the indoor world title in March 2022, and Woo's first career Diamond League title two months later. More international success followed the 27-year-old after the world silver, and he arrived in Budapest this month for the latest world championships regarded as a worthy medal contender.
Woo, however, failed to clear both the figurative and literal bar at the National Athletics Centre in the Hungarian capital Tuesday, as he settled for sixth place with a final height of 2.29 meters.
This was a deflating speed bump for an athlete still in his prime who will now have to regroup for a series of big competitions on the horizon.
Prior to the worlds in Budapest, Woo's season high was 2.33m, which would have put him in a position to battle for bronze.
Woo looked to be in cruise control early, needing just one attempt each to clear 2.20m, 2.25m and 2.29m. The eventual champion, Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, missed on his first crack at 2.25m, as did the bronze medalist from Qatar, Mutaz Essa Barshim.
With six of the 13 finalists eliminated early, Woo was tied for first place with JuVaughn Harrison of the United States.
But Woo didn't have another successful jump the rest of the way, while one rival after another cleared 2.33m.
Woo then failed in his two remaining cracks at 2.36m.
There will be little time for despair for Woo, who is next scheduled to compete in a Diamond League event in Zurich on Aug. 31.
High jumpers ranked inside the top six in Diamond League points after six meetings will qualify for the Diamond League Final in Eugene on Sept. 16-17. Woo is in fifth place with 14 points, thanks to runner-up finishes in Doha in May and Florence in June in his only two appearances so far this year.
A victory is worth eight points, while a second-place finish is good for seven points. Woo missed out on last year's final by one point, despite posting a victory and a runner-up finish.
The South Korean was the second-best Asian in Budapest, behind Barshim, who took bronze after winning the past three world titles. The two will battle for continental supremacy at the Asian Games, which will open in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 23, with the men's high jump final set for Oct. 4. Barshim won gold at the continental event in 2010 and 2014, while Woo grabbed silver in 2018.
Then there will be the Olympics next summer in Paris. Woo has said several times that his ultimate career goal is to win gold in Paris.
If Woo can pull that off, missing the podium in Budapest this time will have seemed like a mere blip. (Yonhap)