By Cho Jin-seo
As some 200 athletes from North and South marched into the Olympic Stadium under the flag of the Korean peninsula in a mixed group on Sunday night, the 28th Olympic Games finally ended two weeks of competitions of pure athleticism back in its birthplace Athens, Greece.
Taekwondo athlete Moon Dae-sung won South Korea’s last medal _ the ninth gold and 30th medal in a total _ in the men’s +80kg competition.
Moon knocked out Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece in the final with a little less than a minute left in the first round, a very rare case in a world-class competition for the martial art.
The 1999 world champion and gold medallist of the Pusan Asian Games two years ago, Moon earned the first point with a counter blow after a couple of seconds when the lanky Greek went on the attack backed by huge support from the local crowd.
It was about two minutes after when Moon again was on the defensive and the Greek stepped in looking for a right-footed kick. Then Moon rotated his body, landing a spinning hook kick on the side of Nikolaidis’ face. Both fell down and the referee stopped the bout as Moon celebrated his victory. It took several minutes for the Greek to fully recover his senses.
After making a celebratory lap around the stadium with the South Korean flag, Moon went to the Greek’s side and embraced his opponent, drawing applause from the disappointed crowd.
Moon’s KO win had more meaning than a ordinary gold for the future of taekwondo, as many South Koreans and media had complained about the defensive attitudes of the athletes in this Olympics. Jang Ji-won was in the center of the criticisms after winning the gold medal in the women’s –57kg competition.
The bronze medal went to Pascal Gentil of France, whom Moon beat in the semifinals earlier in the day.
After the awarding ceremony, Moon said he felt sorry for his opponent as the final hit came by luck.
``I told him that he is a real champion and the people love him. I also told him that the kick I released came out by accident and that he just happened to be there,’’ Moon explained. ``I had a severe pain in my left foot, so I stayed back for a counterattack. I was unconscious of the kick.’’
``I cannot remember many things at this point. I can only tell you that I was carried away with excitement. I tried to get up in time (after Moon’s final kick) but I did not manage it,’’ Nikolaidis said about the match.
In the marathon event, Lee Bong-ju finished in 14th place, covering the hot and hilly 42 kilometer course in a time of 2:15:33, 4:38 behind winner Stefano Baldini of Italy.
Winner of the Boston Marathon in 2001, Lee had a brisk start to stay in the leading group over the first 15 kilometers, and was 15 seconds behind the leader when he passed the halfway point. But soon he began to lag, to clock 42 seconds behind the leader at the 25km point.
Ji Young-jun followed Lee to the finishing line at 2:16:14 for 17th place and Lee Myong-seung was the 41st runner at 2:21:01.
``I ran thinking this could be my last race,’’ Lee said afterwards. ``But in the marathon, you can not always achieve what you want.’’
``I’m not retiring now. I will discuss with my coach about the future,’’ he added.
Lee set his personal best record of 2:07:20 in the Tokyo Marathon in 2000, and won the Pusan Asian Games in 2002. The 33-year-old showed that he is still competent by clocking 2:08:10 in last year’s London Marathon where he placed seventh.
South Korea has two gold, one silver and one bronze medal in the Olympic marathon so far. Sohn Ki-chung won the 1936’s Berlin Olympics when Korea was under Japanese occupation with Nam Seung-ryong having the bronze. Hwang Young-jo topped the podium in Barcelona in 1992, and Lee won the silver medal four years later in Atlanta.
At the closing ceremony of the Athens Olympics which followed the marathon event, the South and North Korean delegations marched into the Olympic Stadium in the same blue and red uniforms. Instead of their national flags, they bore the blue image of the peninsula on a white background on their chest.
Double-crowned female archer Park Sung-hyun held the Korean peninsula flag together with the North’s former basketball coach Kim Sung-ho. Kim was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony with South Korean volleyball player Ku Min-jung. The two Koreas held their first joint march in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.