The Beijing Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar bookended the action-packed sporting year of 2022 for South Korea. And there will be no shortage of international events for the country in the new year, with the World Baseball Classic getting the ball rolling in March. It will be followed by the FIFA Women’s World Cup in July, with Australia and New Zealand as co-hosts. The 19th Asian Games, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are scheduled for September in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.
The national baseball team will be out for a measure of redemption at the WBC, with its glory years now a distant memory.
South Korea finished third at the inaugural WBC in 2006 and did one better in 2009, losing to Japan in extra innings in the final. It was preceded by an undefeated run to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
South Korea, however, hasn’t come close to reaching those heights since. It crashed out of the first round at the 2013 and 2017 WBC tournaments. Missing the podium at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, finishing fourth among six countries, was the latest blow.
To regain respectability in international baseball, South Korea recruited major leaguers of Korean descent for this year’s WBC, including Tommy Edman, the 2021 National League Gold Glove winner at second base for the St. Louis Cardinals. Edman was born to an American father and a Korean mother, and has a Korean name, Hyun-soo.
There are 20 countries divided into four groups of five, and South Korea is in Pool B with Japan, Australia, China and the Czech Republic.
All Pool B games will take place at Tokyo Dome from March 9 to 13. The top two countries in the group will reach the quarterfinals, where they will be up against the top two teams from Pool A. Those games will also be at Tokyo Dome.
The semifinals and the final will be played at LoanDepot Park, home of the Miami Marlins.
Come July, the women’s national football team will try to follow in the footsteps of the men’s squad and reach the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup.
South Korea made it to the round of 16 at the men’s World Cup in Qatar in December for the country’s first knockout appearance in 12 years. The Taegeuk Ladies have been to the round of 16 only once in their three previous appearances: in Canada in 2015. At the previous World Cup in 2019 in France, South Korea crashed out of the group stage by losing all three matches.
Things have been looking up for South Korea under head coach Colin Bell, who took the helm in October 2019, three months after the World Cup. In February last year, South Korea finished runners-up to China at the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup, the country’s best performance at the continental event.
Australia and New Zealand will co-host this year’s World Cup, and South Korea will play all three Group H matches in Australia.
Germany, world No. 2, will be the favorites in the group. South Korea are the second-highest ranked team in Group H at No. 15, with Colombia coming in at No. 27 and Morocco checking in at No. 76. South Korea have never faced any of the three countries before.
This will be the first Women’s World Cup to feature 32 countries, up from 24. There are eight groups of four nations, and the top two from each group will advance to the round of 16.
The Asian Games are set for Sept. 23-Oct. 8 in Hangzhou. The city was forced to postpone its first Asian Games by a year owing to COVID-19, and, barring further delay, this will be the first summer Asiad held in an odd-numbered year.
Countries from across the world’s largest continent will compete for 482 gold medals in 40 sports.
The Asian Games have long been a three-horse race featuring South Korea, China and Japan. China has won every medal race since 1982 and should keep that streak alive on home soil.
South Korea ceded second place to Japan at the 2018 Asian Games, the first time it had slipped out of the No. 2 spot since 1994. South Korea won 49 gold medals, 안전놀이터 its fewest in 36 years.
There is cause for some optimism this time around, though. For one, young medalists from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will test their mettle against the Asian competition, including archers An San and Kim Je-deok, and artistic gymnast Yeo Seo-jeong.
Then there are two athletes who couldn’t quite reach the podium in Tokyo but have since taken huge steps forward in their development.
High jumper Woo Sang-hyeok finished fourth in Tokyo but won the world indoor title in March 2022. He followed that up with the silver medal at the world outdoor athletics championships in July. The 26-year-old is now one of two or three best high jumpers in the world today, with his chief rival being a fellow Asian, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar. Barshim beat out Woo for his third consecutive world title last summer, and the two should renew their rivalry in China.
Freestyle swimmer Hwang Sun-woo represents South Korea’s best Asian Games swimming medal hope since Park Tae-hwan. As an 18-year-old in Tokyo, Hwang reached the finals in the men’s 100m and 200m freestyle events. Less than a year later, Hwang won silver in the 200m freestyle at the world championships, with a new national record time of 1:44.47. Hwang also owns the Asian record in the 100m freestyle at 47.56, set in Tokyo while becoming the first Asian to reach an Olympic final in 65 years.
Hwang has captured two straight gold medals in the 200m free at the short course world championships, held in the 25m pool, half the length of the Olympic pool. Hwang, still about four months shy of his 20th birthday, will have very little competition in Asia in the 100m and 200m.