Team Korea in Tokyo Olympics: the Rediscovery of Unpopular Sports and the Rise of Gen Z
Team Korea in Tokyo Olympics: the Rediscovery of Unpopular Sports and the Rise of Gen Z
  • Reporter Lee Seung-ah, Song Geun-seok
  • 승인 2021.09.05 22:47
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▲Team Korea entering the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony / Yonhapnews
▲Team Korea entering the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony / Yonhapnews


The 17-day long Tokyo Olympics came to an end with a closing ceremony on Aug. 8. The Tokyo Olympics was unprecedented compared to the previous Olympics: it was postponed for a year due to COVID-19, and spectators were banned after a state of emergency was declared on July 8 in Tokyo. Nevertheless, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ended successfully with lots of memorable moments and new records. Team USA secured the top spot on the table by winning 39 gold medals, 41 silver medals, and 33 bronze medals, followed by China and Japan in second and third place. Team Korea ranked 16th place with six gold medals, four silver medals, and 10 bronze medals, falling short of their initial goal to be ranked within the top 10 with seven gold medals.
However, this Olympics was a showcase for the athletes of seemingly less popular sports, who displayed high performances that had been unanticipated. The Olympics also marked the rise of the Generation Z (Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2015), bringing good hopes and prospects for the next Olympics in 2024.

The rediscovery of unpopular sports
The Korean high jumper Woo Sang-hyeok surprised the world in the men’s high jump finals. Woo was the first Korean high jumper to reach the Olympic finals of the men’s high jump since Lee Jin-taek in the 1996 Olympics. In the finals, Woo enjoyed his glorious opportunity with a constant smile on his face. He successfully cleared 2.35 meters on the first try, breaking both the national and his personal record. Although he failed the rest, he clinched fourth place, the highest spot in the Korean track-and-field Olympic finals history.
Jun Woong-tae, a modern pentathlon athlete, had a small but great wish to make the sport more well-known to people. The modern pentathlon combines swimming, fencing, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross country running. The 26-year-old successfully achieved his wish by becoming the first-ever Korean pentathlon athlete to reach the podium as he won third place in the final. Jun shed tears of joy in the post-game interview and thanked his teammate Jung Jin-hwa, who finished fourth.
One of the biggest highlights of the Olympics for the Korean national team was the women’s volleyball team. Although they made it to the knockout stages in the past two Olympics, their prospects were not so promising before the Olympics. Some key players left the team due to an unsavory scandal, and they were ranked 15th place out of 16 teams in the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) which took place right before the Olympics. Despite all the odds against the team, they were able to create drama in the Olympics by reaching the semi-finals, defeating high-ranked teams like Japan and Turkey. Fans applauded the team who demonstrated one-team teamwork and spirit.

The rise of Gen Z
The 18-year-old swimmer Hwang Sun-woo shone brightly in the Olympics. Competing in three men’s freestyle-swimming events—50 meters, 100 meters, and 200 meters—Hwang was the only Asian athlete to reach the finals in the 100 and 200 meters events, and won fifth and seventh place, respectively. Along the way, Hwang also set new national and Asian records and thereby proved his superb talent and potential to become a world-class swimmer.
The 19-year-old gymnast Yeo Seo-jeong made history by winning a bronze medal in the women’s vault, becoming the first female athlete to win a medal in the Olympics artistic gymnastics. Yeo scored a total score of 14.733, combining 15.333 on the first try and 14.133 on the second try. On the first try, Yeo executed her highly sophisticated technique “Yeo Seo-jeong” with perfection, earning the highest single-try score among any competitor. Despite a small mistake in landing on the second try, she was still able to secure a long-awaited medal.
The 20-year-old archer An San was an undeniable star of the Olympics. Finishing the first individual round with an Olympic record, An won gold medals in all three events she competed in—mixed team, women’s team competition, and individual competition. Accordingly, An became the first Korean athlete to win three gold medals in Olympics history. At the same time, the Korean archery team collected four gold medals in five events, proving their complete dominance in the Olympics’ archery. 
Overcoming many obstacles and concerns under the shadow of this unprecedented pandemic, the Tokyo Olympic Games turned out to be a huge inspiration for the athletes, the online spectators, and the world.