The main batch of South Korean athletes and officials for the Hangzhou Asian Games arrived in the host country of China on Wednesday, embarking on a journey to redemption after a subpar performance at the previous competition five years ago.
South Korea will have a record delegation of 1,140 athletes and officials competing in 39 of 40 sports at the Hangzhou Asiad, being held following a one-year postponement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The traveling team on Wednesday included athletes from tennis, shooting, field hockey and skateboarding, with Choi Yoon, chef de mission for South Korea, also flying to Hangzhou. South Korea will be feted in a welcome ceremony at the athletes' village Thursday morning.
Though the opening ceremony is Saturday, preliminary action in football, beach volleyball, volleyball and cricket began Tuesday in and around Hangzhou. In men's football, South Korea pounded Kuwait 9-0 to open Group E play Tuesday evening. The South Korean men's volleyball team is set to play its first preliminary match Wednesday evening.
The first medal events will take place Sunday.
South Korea has set out to grab 40 to 50 gold medals and finish third in the medal race behind China and Japan.
At the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, South Korea ranked third with 49 gold medals, its fewest Asiad gold medals total since 1982. It was also 26 fewer than Japan's total, and the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) has said the goal is to cut that deficit by as many as 10 gold medals.
Before the delegation's departure, KSOC President Lee Kee-heung said Wednesday there are bigger things at stake than winning medals.
"The most important thing is for our athletes to be safe," Lee told reporters at Incheon International Airport. "These athletes have had to deal with a lot of challenges after the competition was postponed by a year. I hope they will get to show what they are all capable of."
Choi, the head of the delegation, said he wants the athletes to give the people back home something to cheer about.
"No matter what the color of the medals are, I hope our people will cheer on these athletes and feel happy," Choi said. "They have all worked very hard for this."
After landing in Hangzhou, Choi said the South Korean athletes are capable of capturing at least 50 gold medals at the Asian Games.
"All of our athletes have tried to make their dreams come true," Choi told reporters at Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport. "They each have inspiring stories to tell, and I hope people back home will show their support."
Kwak Jun-hyouk, an esports player competing in EA Sports FC Online, said, "The goal is to win South Korea's first esports gold medal. China may have the home advantage, but we will do our best."
Esports, with "League of Legends" and "Street Fighter V: Champion Edition" also being contested, will make their Asian Games debut here, after being a demonstration event in 2018.
The Hangzhou Asian Games will run through Oct. 8, with a record 11,970 athletes representing 45 countries in 40 sports.
Source: Yonhap News Agency