Taekwondo silver-medalist Lee Dae-hoon (right) spars in the final on Wednesday. (London Olympic Joint Press Corps)
South Korea slowed down to catch its breath Wednesday in its run to break its record for Olympic gold medals, picking up just a silver medal each in taekwondo and table tennis.
The country won 12 gold medals up to Tuesday, a single gold short of its best finish set in Beijing four years ago.
Lee Dae-hoon started off as the first Korean fighter in men’s taekwondo with four gold medals at stake, and captured the silver in the under-58 kg class.
In the final, he struggled against two-time world champion Joel Gonzalez Bonilla of Spain, who dominated the match with his 17-8 victory.
The defeat dashed the 20-year-old Korean’s quest for the grand slam triumph in the Korean martial art sport.
Lee had three out of four major titles under his belt except for the Olympics. He won the 63 kg class titles in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China and in the 2011 world championships in Gyeongju, Korea. He became the 2012 Asian champion in the 53kg category in May. The London Games was his Olympic debut.
Korean table tennis team members Ryu Seung-min (from left), Oh Sang-eun and Joo Sae-hyuk salute the crowd after winning silver medals on Wednesday. (London Olympic Joint Press Corps)
Both Gonzalez and Lee are reigning world champions, but Lee normally competes in the under-63 kg class, which is not an Olympic program. He had to lose weight to compete in the London Olympics.
South Korea’s first medal on Wednesday came from men’s team table tennis.
The team of Oh Sang-eun, Joo Sae-hyuk and Ryu Seung-min didn’t have what it takes to beat the heavily favored Chinese squad. The South Koreans were beaten 3-0 by three of the top-five players in the world ― world No. 1 and men’s singles champion Zhang Jike, world No. 2 Ma Long and fourth ranked Wang Hao.
The silver medal, however, is significant for South Korea in that it improved upon the bronze in the same event that it won four years ago in Beijing. The country failed to bag a medal of any color in three other disciplines: men’s singles, women’s singles and women’s team. China completed a clean sweep of all four titles in table tennis for the second straight time.
All three South Korean players are in their 30s. After getting their medals, they spoke about the need to pass the torch to the younger generation.
“They have professional leagues in China and Germany, but that’s not the case for us,” Ryu said. “We have such a shallow pool of young talent. In this circumstance, winning silver is still a good accomplishment, but we need to have a professional league to get to the top.”
The national women’s hockey team was beaten by Germany 1-4 to finish eighth. Kim Su-ji, 14, the youngest Korean Olympian in London, placed 26th, the bottom of the rankings, in women’s 10 m platform diving.
South Korea stayed in fourth in the medal race with 12 gold, seven silver and six bronze medals as of Wednesday.
By Chun Sung-woo (firstname.lastname@example.org)