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South Koreans rise to athletics championships challenge

media Asbel Kiprop of Kenya sprints through a corner ahead of teammate Silas … Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

The 13th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, capped a prestigious treble for the small nation, following up on the 1988 Olympic Games and the 2002 World Championships. But did South Koreans take to the IAAF gathering, given their relative lack of athletics culture?

For IOC President Jacques Rogge, there was no doubt that the Koreans were up to the task.

"I have been in Daegu for the Universiade in 2003," Rogge told journalists on the eve of the opening. "So I know that the people of Daegu have a great infrastructure, they can organise a great event so I am very hopeful. This week I have the unique opportunity to enjoy the sports without having any responsibility for the show and that is great."

Sports Insight

Almost 2,000 athletes showed up from 202 different nations, a record for the event. As a sign of popular success, the organisers pointed to the number of tickets sold: over 411,000, or 91 per cent of those available.

But detractors underlined that the top tier of the impressive stadium was shut, and there were many empty seats around the track.

Nevertheless, South Korea's press lauded the fact that this sporting event will show off the country's dynamism.

"The country will no longer be a strange nation torn by the Korean war," wrote the popular daily Chosun Ilbo.

One editorialist added, "Now is the time for us to make the world realise that South Korea is not all about cellphones, shipbuilding and cars."

The next sporting challenge the South Koreans face is the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The authorities now feel buoyed up by the belief this latest global sports meet went off without a hitch. And this despite the fact South Korea did not reap a single medal in the able-bodied disciplines.

They are unlikely to do so in 2018, either.

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