Usain Bolt of Jamaica reacts for the crowd after winning the 200 meters at the
Daegu World Championships on Saturday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Daegu inspires athletics in Korea
Nine-day international event attracts more than 450,000 fans.
By Oh Kyu-wook
DAEGU ― On a Saturday evening, Kim Se-jin, 11, was sitting anxiously with his mother in the stands at Daegu Stadium.
“Bolt! Bolt!” he shouted loudly while jumping onto his chair as the tall man wearing a yellow jersey turned out at the track.
“I’m a huge fan,” Kim said while pointing his finger at Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, who ran the 200-meters in 19.40 seconds to win the title on the night.
Korea’s first ever World Championships in Athletics finished Sunday after nine days of fierce competition, featuring the world’s top athletes, including 25-year-old Bolt.
Despite some worries about the number of spectators, Daegu successfully hosted the biggest track and field event, attracting more than 450,000 fans over the nine days.
Many athletes and officials praised the stadium atmosphere, noting that they were impressed by Koreans’ enthusiasm for the sport.
Athletics is still not a strong sport in Korea. Many young people follow soccer or baseball, but don’t usually watch athletics. But the Daegu Worlds saw some sign of changes.
“I didn’t know it was so exciting and fun before coming here. If there is another athletics game I’ll definitely go to watch,” said 22-year-old student Seo Ji-haeng.
The 11-year-old Kim said his dream is to become a sprinter. He said: “I want to be a 100m sprinter, want to run like Bolt.”
“The World Championships inspire young people, and I think the Daegu Worlds will start as a really exciting period for Korean athletics,” said Sebastian Coe, former 1,500 m world champion.
But Coe, who is now the Vice President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, added that the more important thing now is how Korea continues to develop the sport.
“I think the championships will benefit Korean athletics, but the federation needs a plan, to be able to capitalize on the excitement that has been around the championships,” he said.
Korea has never won a medal in the World Championships in Athletics. And again this year, despite strong home support, the 60-strong Korean national team ended its campaign without a medal.
After its disappointing 2009 Worlds in Berlin, where all 19 participants were knocked out from the qualification rounds, the federation had set a rather modest goal of “10-10,” placing athletes in the top 10 in at least 10 disciplines. But even this goal was too much for the Korean athletes.
Only two race walkers, Kim Hyun-sub in the men’s 20 km and Park Chil-sung in 50km, could meet the goal after finishing sixth and seventh respectively.
The men’s relay teams set new national records in the 4x100 m and 4x400 m, but still lagged far behind the world leaders.
Oh Dong-jin, the president of the Korea Association of Athletics Federation, admitted that it was another disappointing season for Korea athletics.
“We’ve worked hard, but we still have a long way to go,” Oh said.
Oh, however, said that he witnessed some positive signs in Daegu, noting that the Daegu Worlds was a great experience for the local athletes and coaches.
“The championships will be a turning point for our athletics. If we continue to support some events, such as the walk race, marathon and also relays, I think we’ll have a good chance in the Olympics next year,” he added.