By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korean shuttlers made a triumphant return home from their successful world championships on Tuesday, fresh off performances that set them up well for the upcoming Asian Games at home.
At the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships, which concluded last weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark, the South Koreans claimed the gold and silver in the men's doubles and also shared the bronze with a Denmark pair.
In the final, the 10th-ranked Ko Sung-hyun and Shin Baek-cheol stunned the world No. 1 and fellow Koreans Lee Yong-dae and Yoo Yeon-seong 2-1 (22-20, 21-13, 21-18) to become the first South Korean men's doubles champs since 1999.
Kim Gi-jung and Kim Sa-rang, currently ranked sixth, took the bronze, giving South Korea its first 1-2-3 finish in any single event in the world championships' 37-year history. With this year's Asian Games set to open in Incheon later this month, these duos couldn't have asked for better preparation. South Korea hasn't won an Asiad gold in the men's doubles since 2002.
Speaking to reporters at Incheon International Airport, Ko and Shin said they were honored to end the country's world championships drought.
From left: South Korean badminton players Yoo Yeon-seong, Lee Yong-dae, Ko Sung-hyun, Shin Baek-cheol, Kim Sa-rang and Kim Gi-jung pose for photos after returning home from the world championships in Denmark on Sept. 2, 2014, at Incheon International Airport. Ko and Shin won the gold medal over Yoo and Lee. (Yonhap)
"I don't know the last time we defeated a Korean opponent," said Shin, who won the mixed doubles gold at the 2010 Asiad. "It makes it extra sweet that we beat (fellow South Koreans) on such a big stage."
Ko and Shin are actually the lowest-ranked tandem of the three. Since the Asiad only permits countries to field two doubles teams each, Ko and Shin will be the odd men out in the men's doubles. They're only eligible for the team competition.
"We may not play in the doubles, but I know we'll get our chance to shine at the team event," Ko said. "Even if we don't get to play in the doubles, we will try to cheer on the other guys."
Lee Yong-dae and Yoo Yeon-seong rose to the No. 1 ranking last month on the strength of their three consecutive titles at the BWF Super Series this year.
The world championships have proven elusive for Lee. He won the Olympic mixed doubles title in 2008 and then followed it up with a men's doubles bronze in 2012, but has yet to win a gold at the world championships.
The 25-year-old admitted the pressure of trying to end the personal drought affected his play in the final.
"This was my third silver medal at the world championships," said Lee, who also has two bronze medals at the competition. "No matter how hard I try, I find myself becoming conscious of that. I think Sung-hyun and Baek-cheol were more relaxed than our team. We'll try to learn from this experience and hopefully we can perform better if we reach the final at the Asian Games."
Kim Sa-rang and Kim Gi-jung had to withdraw from the semifinals against Shin and Ko because of Kim Sa-rang's neck injury. Kim Sa-rang said his neck disk has also affected his shoulders, and he's focused on getting better in time for the Asian Games.
"I will try every treatment I can find to get ready," he said. "It was disappointing to withdraw from such a major event, but for now, we're happy with the medal and our focus is now on the Asian Games."
Kim Gi-jung said his team would have had a chance to beat Shin and Ko but ultimately, he and his partner decided it would be better to rest for the Asian Games.
The two Kims said the best-case scenario in Incheon is to have an all-Korean showdown against Lee and Yoo for the gold medal.
"We know each other well, and when we go up against each other, we try to see them as just another opponent, not teammates from the same country," Kim Gi-jung said. "We will just try to stick to our game plan."
Lee Deuk-choon, head coach of the badminton squad, said while the men's doubles teams exceeded his expectations, other players left much to be desired. The only other medal for South Korea at the worlds came from the women's doubles, where Lee So-hee and Shin Seung-chan shared the bronze with a Japanese team.
The coach said the world championships served as a great opportunity for his players to check upon their potential Asiad opponents.
"We could see that players from Asia have been working hard and really gearing toward the Asian Games," Lee said. "In some ways, the Asian Games may prove to be more difficult than the world championships. But we've analyzed strengths and weaknesses of our opponents, and if we can address our conditioning issues over the next couple of weeks, we should be able to reach the podium in every event."