Korea Information - Sports

How South Korea Became a Sporting Powerhouse


South Korea ranked 7th overall in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. The country has shown great performances at international competitions with top 10 finishes including 8th at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and 5th at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Korea has also produced one of the best athletes in the world. Kim Yuna continued to break world records in figure skating, a field which used to be dominated by Western athletes. Choo Shin-soo is also an active player in US Major League Baseball, while golfer Park In-bee made the country proud by winning a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Kim Yuna claimed a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Choo Shin-soo (left) is an outfielder for the Major League Baseball team Texas Rangers. Son Heung-min (right) is a forward for the British Premier League club, Tottenham Hotspur.

How South Korea Became a Sporting Powerhouse

The most important factors behind South Korea’s transformation into a sporting powerhouse are the country’s large number of sports lovers and efficient investment. The country strives to find promising young athletes, train them efficiently, and help them build their skills by accumulating a wealth of experience in domestic competitions. There are also professional sporting facilities dedicated solely to the training of athletes selected for international events such as the Olympic Games or the Asian Games.

National Sports Infrastructure

Soccer is one of Korea’s most popular sports. The K League (Korea Professional Football League) runs from March to November each year, with fierce competition among 12 regional teams. Enthusiastic cheering by the Red Devils, the national team’s supporting group, is also a sight to behold. There are a number of South Korean footballers who have succeeded on the global stage including Park Ji-sung, who played for Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min, and Ki Sung-yueng at Newcastle United.

Koreans also love playing soccer. Many South Korean soccer lovers gather together early in the morning of a holiday to enjoy the sport. The number of people who have joined grassroots football teams stands at around 500,000 nationwide. 

Chuncheon Marathon. Held in Chuncheon, Gangwon-do every October.

Olle Trail in Jeju. A hiking course in Jejudo Island “Olle” is a local word from the Jeju dialect that refers to a narrow path between a thoroughfare and the entrance of a house. Ms. Seo Myeong-suk, a journalist, started using the word for mountain hiking courses on the island after drawing inspiration from the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain

The country’s sports infrastructure is solid and wide-ranging. According to the 2016 Sports White Paper published by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, there were 115,303 sports clubs with 5,579,640 members, representing 10.8% of the total population.

The popularity of baseball in the country is no less than that of football. There are a total of ten teams in the KBO league. In 2017, some 8.4 million people visited stadiums to enjoy professional baseball games. More Korean players making their way to Major League Baseball, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, Texas Rangers right fielder Choo Shin-soo, and Colorado Rockies pitcher Oh Seung-hwan, have also helped boost people’s interest in the sport.

Over the past few years, the number of marathon clubs has increased drastically. In spring and fall, marathon competitions are held every weekend all over the country. An amateur marathon competition attracts thousands or even tens of thousands of participants. More than 20,000 people, professionals and amateurs, are taking part in major marathon events.

As a mountainous country, South Korea has an ideal environment for mountain climbers and hikers. There are many mountains near large cities, enabling city dwellers to enjoy mountain climbing and hiking conveniently. The country also has many popular rock climbing spots.

In recent years, the hilly trails of Jejudo Island have emerged as a favorite destination for hikers. Amid the new hiking boom, local governments have vied with each other in their efforts to establish good hiking paths.

Bike riding has also become the focus of attention as an environmentally friendly sport, and the number of cycling clubs has increased accordingly. A vast network of bike paths has been established across the country, and many people now enjoy cycling along the country’s major rivers on weekends.

Korea has systematically conducted professional sports research. Specialists in various fields, ranging from sports dynamics to psychology and physiology, help athletes achieve the best possible results in competitions.

The Korea Institute of Sport Science (KISS) is leading the scientific training of national athletes. KISS, formerly the Sports Science Research Center, has incorporated science and technology into training for various sports since its foundation. The institute has established a sports science center composed of some 30 experts with masters and doctoral degrees as well as assisted athletes aiming for medals since the Rio Summer Olympics. In 2011, the country built a new training facility in Jincheon, Chungcheongbuk-do Province for athletes selected for international events. With an aim to completely replace the Taereung Training Center, an expansion project was completed in September 2017. The Jincheon Training Center can accommodate up to 1,150 athletes in 35 different sports, which is five times the capacity of the Taereung Training Center.

Meanwhile, the 51-year history of the Taereung Training Center, which has led the sports science of South Korea with its own track field and various training facilities since 1966, came to an end after completing its relocation to the Jincheon Training Center in 2017. Another facility specializing in the enhancement of athletes’ cardiopulmonary functions is in Hambaeksan Mountain near Taebaek.


Korea Information - Sports

1988 Seoul Summer Olympics


The 24th Summer Olympic Games were held in Seoul in 1988, with a record number of athletes (13,304 from 160 countries) attending the event. The Games adopted “reconciliation and progress” as the basic spirit. The organizing committee set the following objectives: participation of the largest number of athletes, worldwide harmony, best results, safety, and cost saving.

South Korea became the 16th country (and only the 2nd in Asia) to host the Summer Olympic Games. The competitions were held in 23 formal disciplines and 2 demonstration sports. South Korea ranked 4th overall, winning 12 gold medals, 10 silver medals, and 11 bronze medals.

The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics were significant in that they were focused on reconciliation between the Western and Eastern Blocs, after the Western Bloc’s boycotting of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and the Eastern Bloc’s retaliatory boycotting of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. The event in Seoul transcended ideological conflict and racial discrimination pursuant to the Olympic Charter, and served as an occasion for publicizing the status of the country’s economic development and traditional culture, and the potential of Koreans worldwide.


Korea Information - Sports

2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan


Held for 31 days (May 31 to June 30), the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan was the first World Cup to be jointly hosted by two countries. It was also the first World Cup Tournament to be held outside Europe and the Americas. The event produced a series of unexpected results, of which the most unexpected was probably South Korea’s remarkable success in reaching the semi-finals. The event also served as an occasion to reveal another aspect of South Koreans to people all over the world: soccer fans in red T shirts enthusiastically supporting their national team. Tens of thousands of fans fervently cheering on their team in the dead of night created quite a sight. During the South Korean team’s match against Germany for 4th place, a total of 6.5 million people filled the streets nationwide to cheer on their national team.

South Koreans supporting the national team in front of Seoul City Hall during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Many foreigners said that they were deeply impressed by the fans’ enthusiasm and unity. Still, the Red Devils continue to cheer for the national team in major tournaments.


Korea Information - Sports

2011 World Championships in Athletics


The event was held in Daegu, the country’s third largest city, from August 27 to September 4, 2011, with more than 100 million spectators over the world. Daegu Stadium is also the venue where many other international sports competitions, including the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan and the 2003 Summer Universiade, were held. During the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, the stadium’s high-definition electric signboard displayed minute differences of hundredths of a second in the athletes’ times, presenting vivid scenes of an athletics competition to spectators all over the world.

Competitors in the steeplechase at the 2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu.


Korea Information - Sports

2015 Summer Universiade


The 2015 Summer Universiade was held in the city of Gwangju from July 3 to 14, 2015. It was the third time that South Korea hosted the event, following on from 1997 and 2003. A total of 17,036 athletes from 143 countries participated in 21 disciplines. The main stadium was the Gwangju World Cup Stadium. 


Korea Information - Sports

2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics


Joint inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team. Korea’s unified women’s ice hockey team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do Province, was selected as the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics after receiving a majority vote at the 123rd IOC Session held on July 6, 2011. It was South Korea’s third attempt.

The PyeongChang Olympics, which was held from February 9 to 25, 2018, was the largest Winter Games ever, drawing 2,920 participants from 92 countries including six nations debuting in the Winter Olympics―Nigeria, Eritrea, Malaysia, Singapore, Ecuador, and Kosovo. Three world records and twenty-five new Olympic records were set, thanks to the excellent ice quality. Ticket sales were also considered a success, with some 1,080,000 tickets sold.

(From top left, counter-clockwise)
1. Choi Min-jeong (Short Track). Choi took two gold medals with dominating races in the women’s 1,500 and 3,000m relay despite getting disqualified from the 500m race.
2. Women’s curling. The five-member team of Kim Eun-jung, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Yeong-mi, and Kim Cho-hi received international attention with their stunning performance. The so-called Team Kim advanced to the finals after beating traditionally strong teams and claimed a silver medal after losing to Sweden.
3. Yun Sung-bin (Skeleton). Yun became skeleton’s new king at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics as he won a gold medal by the largest margin in any Olympic sliding race.

South and North Korean athletes jointly enter the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

PyeongChang was the first Olympics to adopt 5G technology, 360° virtual reality (VR), glassless 3D, and holograms. It also utilised the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile app. On top of that, a total of 85 robots, including guides, food service, and mannequin robots, were deployed to the venues, demonstrating the country’s innovative prowess. CNN reported that “5G is helping make PyeongChang the most high-tech Olympics ever.”

Above all, the PyeongChang Olympics will be remembered by the world as the “Peace Olympics” that embodied the value and spirit of the Olympics. North Korea sent the largest delegation ever to the Winter Games including 22 players, 229 cheerleaders, and 27 high-ranking officials. The two Koreas made a joint entrance and competed as one team in the women’s hockey for the first time in Olympic history. Pope Francis said, “The fact that both Koreas compete as one team under the Korean Unification Flag gives hope for a world in which conflicts are peacefully resolved.” Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), also commented, “The Olympic Games of PyeongChang 2018 are the games of new horizons. We have seen how sport can make the world a better place.”

PyeongChang 2018 was also a cultural Olympiad where the Hallyu and traditional culture harmoniously blended. During the Olympics, the country operated a total of 1,800 cultural programs including K-pop concerts, traditional performances, and video arts with some 960,000 people in attendance.

IOC President Thomas Bach praised the PyeongChang Games as “the best Winter Olympics ever,” and Toronto Star even said, “The problem with PyeongChang is that there aren’t any problems.” In the overall medal standing, South Korea ranked 7th with five gold, eight silver, and four bronze medals. The country earned medals not only from ice sports but also from other categories like skeleton, bobsleigh, and curling, diversifying its winter sports portfolio. At the Paralympics, South Korea finished in 16th place, with a gold medal in a sitting cross-country skiing event.

South Korea became a country that has hosted both Summer and Winter Games, 30 years after the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It also joined the club of those who have hosted the world’s four biggest sporting competitions― the 1988 Summer Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup, 2011 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships, and 2018 Winter Olympics.


Korea Information - Sports



Originated in Korea, Taekwondo is a martial art of self-defence in which the competitors use both their hands and feet. In ancient times, Koreans practiced Taekwondo as a mandatory preparation for war.

With the passage of time, Taekwondo gradually became a folk sport. In 1971, it was designated as Korea’s national sport. In 1973, the 1st World Taekwondo Championship were held in Seoul and in 1980, the IOC adopted it as an official event of the Olympic Games. It has grown into an international sport with around 100 million participants globally.

A Taekwondo demonstration in Times Square, New York

Muju, Jeollabuk-do Province, where Taekwondowon was established, hosted the 2017 Muju WTF World Taekwondo Championships.

Taekwondo stresses the importance of spiritual discipline and for this reason it enjoys popularity among both men and women. The South Korean government assists with the dispatching of Taekwondo masters worldwide. Active UN Peacekeeping Forces teach Taekwondo to local residents in disputed territories, where they are stationed. In many parts of the world, Taekwondo is viewed as a symbol of South Korea. As for its educational effects associated with spiritual discipline and tenacity, Taekwondo is emerging as an option for the treatment of young people suffering from addictions.