(ATTN: ADDS comments from 8th para, more photo)
By Joo Kyung-don
INCHEON, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- The main contingent of South Korean athletes to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics came home to a heroes' welcome Wednesday after 17 days of competition in Brazil.
The group made up of 70 athletes and sports officials arrived at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, at about 8:10 a.m. Hundreds of people, including the athletes' families and friends, were on hand at the airport to welcome the delegation with cheers.
Wrestler Kim Hyeon-woo, who won a bronze medal in the men's under-75kg Greco-Roman competition in Rio, was the South Korean flag bearer at the airport. He was also the flag bearer in the Rio Games closing ceremony.
Athletes in archery, football, shooting, fencing, badminton, volleyball and other sports who finished their events early in Rio already returned home on separate flights before the main contingent's arrival. The South Korean taekwondo team, however, will return home on Thursday.
South Korea was represented by 333 athletes and officials in 24 of 28 sports at the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games. The country had set out to capture at least 10 gold medals and place inside the top 10 in the gold medal count for its fourth consecutive Olympics.
It did not meet the gold medal target with nine gold medals, but it finished eighth place overall among the 206 countries that competed in Rio. Besides the gold medals, the country won three silver and nine bronze medals.
Four of the country's nine gold medals came from archery as South Korean archers completed an unprecedented title sweep at the Olympics. South Korea also won two gold medals in taekwondo and one each in fencing, shooting and golf.
The South Korean delegation to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, led by the national flag bearer and wrestler Kim Hyeon-woo (R), walk through Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, after they returned home from Brazil on Aug. 24, 2016. (Yonhap)
The delegation was officially disbanded after Chung Mong-gyu, South Korea's chef de mission, reported their performance at the Rio Games and handed the national flag to Kang Young-joong, co-chief of the Korean Olympic Committee.
"Our athletes were people's hope and joy during the Olympics," Kang said in his welcoming speech. "You gave us confidence that we can reach our goals through hard work and moved our heart with your efforts."
Chung, who is also chief of the Korea Football Association (KFA), said: "Our athletes competed in the spirit of fair play and they were citizen diplomats as they also respected their opponents. The Rio Olympics is over, but I hope our athletes continue to work hard to reach their goals."
Eight gold medalists -- archers Lee Seung-yun, Kim Woo-jin, Chang Hye-jin, Ku Bon-chan, Ki Bo-bae, Choi Mi-sun, fencer Park Sang-young and shooter Jin Jong-oh -- took part in the conference, although they were among the athletes who arrived back home early. They expressed their gratitude for the national support during the Olympics.
"I'm still enjoying a happy time," said Park who won the gold in men's individual epee. "I received a lot of attention after a dramatic performance in Rio. I want to thank everyone who supported me."
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Kim Jong-deok said South Korea will move forward with Olympic spirit as the country is set to host their first Winter Games in 2018 in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province.
"Our athletes have raised the country's image high in the world," he said. "People's support and unity that were displayed throughout the Rio Olympics will lead us to a successful hosting of the PyeongChang Winter Games."
South Korean athletes and officials to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics pose for a photo during a ceremony to disband the delegation at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Aug. 24, 2016. (Yonhap)