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(Daegu Athletics) S. Korea falls well short of goal at world championships
By Yoo Jee-ho
DAEGU, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- After crossing the finish line in 35th place in the women's marathon on Aug. 27, the first event of the World Championships in Athletics, South Korean Chung Yun-hee collapsed, exhausted and in tears.

   That, in essence, was the microcosm of the performance of the 63 South Korean athletes at the biennial competition.

South Korean Chung Yun-hee collapses after the women's marathon of the World Championships in Athletics on Aug. 27. (Yonhap)

After the male marathoners failed to grab a medal earlier Sunday, South Korea will end its nine-day campaign without a medal. None of the six finals in the Sunday evening will include a South Korean.

   In the 28-year history of the world championships, South Korea is the third host, after Sweden in 1995 and Canada in 2001, to be shut out of the medal table.

   South Korea entered the competition with zero medals in 12 previous championships. The country did win an unofficial silver medal in the men's marathon team event, which combines the three fastest times for each country, at the 2007 competition in Osaka. Since it was an unofficial feat, however, it didn't enter the record books.

   In Daegu, South Korea had hopes of adding more marathon medals but ended in seventh in the women's team portion on the first day and sixth in the men's on the final day.

   South Korea had set out a more modest goal -- having top-10 finishes in at least 10 disciplines, under the so-called "10-10" project.

South Korean race walker Park Chil-sung cools off en route to his seventh place finish at the men's 50-kilometer race walk on Sept. 3 at the World Championships in Athletics in Daegu. He is one of two South Koreans to rank in the top 10 of their fields at the championships. (Yonhap)

In the end, only two race walkers met the goal. Kim Hyun-sub finished sixth in the men's 20-kilometer race walk and Park Chil-sung was seventh in the men's 50-kilometer race walk. Both were the best finishes by South Korea at the world championships, and Park also set a national record with a time of 3 hours, 47 minutes and 13 seconds.

   The showing in Daegu was especially disappointing given South Korea's surprise performance at the Guangzhou Asian Games only last November. Track and field athletes brought home four gold medals and 10 medals overall, in the country's best athletics performance at an Asiad since the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. And most of the medalists from Guangzhou were expected to ride that momentum and climb into peak form in time for Daegu. But it was those winners that disappointed the most.

   Of the four gold medalists from Guangzhou, male marathoner Ji Young-jun and female hurdler Lee Yeon-kyung didn't even compete in Daegu. Ji was left off the team at the last minute after battling injuries and drug allegations -- he was later cleared of charges -- and Lee wasn't fast enough to make the national team.

   Kim Deok-hyeon, the long jump champion at the Asian Games, reached the long jump final in Daegu but had to withdraw with a foot injury. He sprained his left foot during the triple jump qualification just hours before the long jump final.

   Jung Soon-ok, the women's long jump champion from Guangzhou, couldn't get out of the qualifying stage in Daegu.

   Oh Dong-jin, president of the Korea Association of Athletics Federations (KAAF), said the torch should have been passed over to younger athletes a long time ago.

   "Our key athletes here have been representing Korea since the 2006 Doha Asian Games," Oh said. "We have failed to discover and nurture new talent and didn't quite have time to overhaul the team before Daegu. Veterans came in with nagging injuries, and I learned that playing hurt isn't always the best option at world championships."

   It was difficult to find the silver lining even from some brighter moments for the host. Three national records were set in the decathlon, men's 4x400-meter relay and men's 50-kilometer race walk, but they were still well back of international standards. In fact, the relay team finished dead last in its heat.