Cash powers South Korea towards record medal haul

LONDON Fri Aug 10, 2012 4:09pm BST

Yang Hak Seon of South Korea celebrates winning a gold medal in the men's gymnastics vault final in the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 6, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Yang Hak Seon of South Korea celebrates winning a gold medal in the men's gymnastics vault final in the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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LONDON (Reuters) - Massive public and private sector spending on sport has put South Korea on track for their most successful Olympic Games in London, and Seoul also expects that investment to pay off when Pyeongchang hosts the Winter Games in 2018.

The country's Olympic chief, Y.S. Park, told Reuters in an interview on Friday the Korean government pumped $100 million per year into sports, while private companies sink an additional $30 million of their own money into individual federations.

Those figures are on a par with countries such as Britain which is hosting the London Games.

UK Sport, established in 1997, annually invests around 100 million pounds ($156.50 million) of public funds - from the lottery and government - in high performance sport while other money comes in from a Team 2012 initiative.

For Korea, the result has been a gold rush in London, with the East Asian powerhouse sitting fifth in the medal standings with 12 golds, just shy of their record 13 set in Beijing.

With three more days of competition, including the Korean martial art of taekwondo, the South Koreans have blown by their modest target of 10 golds set before the Games.

"We expect two more gold medals and that will be a record," said South Korean Olympic Committee chief Park. "This is the result of outstanding government support for sport."

In addition to the huge government spending, South Korean conglomerates are also digging into their own pockets to sponsor athletes and support individual sports.

Hyundai Motor, for example, has a long-standing relationship with archery and the company's financial support has been a major factor in South Korea's domination of the sport at the Olympics for the past 20 years.

ARCHERY DOMINATION

South Korea won three out of the four gold medals on offer in London, while their women archers have won 14 of the last 15 golds up for grabs since 1984.

Other 'minority' sports such as handball, shooting and fencing also receive investment from the SK Group, Hanwha, Samsung and other firms with deep pockets.

The spending does not stop with development, however, and South Korea athletes enjoy some of the best preparations and logistical support of any teams coming into major events like the Olympic and Asian Games.

For the London Olympics, the Koreans set up a training camp at Brunel University about a month before the Games and have been using the base to get the athletes into peak condition for their events.

The Koreans even flew in a dozen chefs to cook Korean dishes and prepare fresh kimchi (pickled cabbage) to make sure the athletes had a little taste of home in London.

"That would be too much kimchi to fly over," said Park.

South Korea hosted the Summer Games in 1988 and will host the winter event in 2018. Park said Korea hopes to emulate their summer success on snow and ice.

"Since we do such a good job in the Summer Games we can be good in the Winter Games as well," he said.

Korean skaters are among the world's best and regularly come home with gold medals from the Games but Park said they were looking to skiing to boost their medal tally in Pyeongchang.

SKIING MEDALS

"We are already reorganising the Korean skiing federation," he said. "We have six years and any government money will have matching funds from private businesses."

Skiers are already training in New Zealand's South Island during the northern hemisphere's summer, he added.

"Maybe Sochi 2014 Olympics is still too short but in Pyeongchang we will achieve good results."

It has not all been good news for the Koreans in London, however, and the team have been involved in some of the Games' most controversial incidents.

Swimmer Park Tae-hwan surrendered his Olympic 400 metres freestyle title after a roller-coaster first day in the Olympic pool that started with a shock disqualification and ended with reinstatement and a silver medal.

Fencer Shin A-lam staged a one-hour protest over a timing issue that cost her a spot in the final, and two Korean women's doubles badminton pairs were disqualified for their part in a match throwing scandal.

"That is a shameful sin," said Park of the badminton affair, which also saw teams from China and Indonesia expelled.

"That is cheating and they will be punished when they go back to South Korea."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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