Hosting this year’s world athletics championships in Daegu completes a prestigious treble for South Korea after the Olympic Games and the World Cup as the East Asian nation confirms its status as a major destination on the international sporting stage.
South Korea’s big breakthrough came in 1988 when it hosted the Olympic Games in the capital Seoul, followed 14 years later by holding the 2002 World Cup together with Japan.
The 13th IAAF World Championships will be held in a country buoyant after it last month trounced European rivals Munich and Annecy to win the right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
After that victory, the Chosun Ilbo, the country’s best-selling daily, said that after the 1988 Olympics, “people worldwide came to have a new image of South Korea as one of the world’s most dynamic countries, not just as a strange nation torn by the Korean War.”
“Now is the time for us to make the world realize that South Korea is not all about mobile phones, shipbuilding and cars,” it said.
South Korea, which has never won a medal at a world championships since they began in Helsinki in 1983, has modest ambitions in Daegu, but anyone who seizes their chance can be guaranteed lasting fame in a nation hungry for sporting success.
The likes of figure skater Kim Yu-na, Manchester United soccer player Park Ji-sung and swimmer Park Tae-hwan are major names in the country of 49 million that features a thriving soccer league and a popular professional baseball set-up.
Just a year away from the London Olympics, South Korea will be hoping the championships featuring the cream of the world’s athletes will switch the focus away from lingering tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea and recent deadly floods.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics had boosted interest in sports in the country, adding that the event would be a major boost for Daegu, awarded hosting rights in 2007.
“A successful staging of this will lead to a successful hosting of the Pyeongchang Olympics,” he said during a visit to Daegu Stadium, Yonhap news agency reported.
A major economic and transport hub in the southeast of South Korea, Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of more than 2.5 million, is no stranger to hosting major sporting events.
The stadium being used for the athletics hosted matches at the 2002 World Cup, as well as the 2003 Summer Universiade and the Colorful Daegu Pre-Championship Meeting, held annually since 2005.