Koreans putting money into medal hunt

South Korea’s Hyeonwoo Kim bites his gold medal at the podium of men’s 66Kg Greco-Roman wrestling ceremony.

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, said in an interview today 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 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.

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.

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