Cool Koreans and Controversial Kenyans

Review of the week: 27 July – 2 August 2015

Korea Olympic KiBobae 05 (7730586140)

South Koreans have a reputation for working long hours. Perhaps this helps to explain why they perform so well in sports which require patience and concentration, such as archery and golf. At the World Archery Championships, they won three of the four gold medals in the Olympic recurve events, including victory for 2012 champion, Ki Bo-Bae (above). But they reached new heights by hitting gold twice with the compound bow, a discipline in which the country has much less tradition. Meanwhile, Inbee Park won the British Women’s Open, her seventh major. South Koreans filled three of the top four places while the fourth was taken by Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who was born in Seoul.

The Rio test events for triathlon took place at Copacabana Beach and were won by the increasingly dominant Gwen Jorgensen, and by Javier Gomez. At the Paracycling Road World Championships, Alex Zanardi and his Italian compatriots reigned supreme in the handcycling events, as did the Russian synchronised swimmers at the World Aquatics Championships. There were surprises too as North Korea won its first diving medals and a Latvian pair prevailed at the European Championships in men’s beach volleyball.

But the top nation in diving, as usual, was China, which claimed ten of the thirteen gold medals on offer. Chen Ruolin and Wu Mingxia have four Olympic gold medals each and look likely to add to them after they took separate synchro titles. An excellent week for China was capped by news that Beijing has been awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics but, unfortunately, the mountains used for the Games will not be capped by anything except artificial snow. China’s human rights record will no doubt also cause a headache for the IOC although, to be fair, that of second-placed Kazakhstan is not much better.

Rita jeptoo 2013 boston

More controversy for the IOC to ponder came from the IAAF’s doping records, which were leaked by a whistleblower. In the context of bans for athletes such as Rita Jeptoo (above), they inevitably raise the question of whether Kenyan success can be put down to cheating after all. But like a good Kenyan distance runner, we should not be hasty on the first lap. The reports show that, between 2001 and 2012, athletes with suspicious test results won 18 global medals for Kenya – this should be contrasted with its overall total of 92 medals, meaning that there were 74 which do not ring any alarm bells. As a result, Kenya is still way ahead of its nearest rival, Ethiopia, which had 62 medals over the same period. And there are other countries, like Spain, which had more suspicious tests than Kenya. Hard work is as vital for Kenyan runners as it is for Korean archers.

The evidence against Russia, and especially its race walkers, is more damning, which is something that I will discuss next week, as well as swimming and the Parapan Games.

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