By Yoo Jee-ho
GWANGJU, July 14 (Yonhap) -- For South Korea, the host country of the ongoing FINA World Championships, Kim Su-ji's bronze medal in the women's 1m springboard diving on Saturday meant more than just the numeral "1" on the medal table.
Thanks to Kim's out-of-the-blue medal in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, South Korea avoided the ignominy of being shut out of the medal race as the host nation. It took care of business on the first day of full competition after Friday's opening ceremony.
FINA's top competition began in 1973, and this is the 18th edition. Only three host countries have failed to get on the board: Colombia in 1975, Ecuador in 1982 and Spain in 1986.
Before this year's event began, South Korea appeared to be in danger of joining that dubious company. Park Tae-hwan, who had been the only South Korean to reach the world championships podium before Kim joined him, had long pulled out, citing his lack of preparation. Kim Seo-yeong, who won the 2018 Asian Games gold medal in the women's 200m individual medley, may still be a long shot on the bigger stage. An Se-hyeon, once a promising swimmer in butterfly, didn't even survive the national team trials for the world championships.
Kim wasn't even considered South Korea's best diver in Gwangju. That designation belonged to Woo Ha-ram, who has hung around the top 10 at previous world championships in the men's individual and synchronized events.
And Kim, whose previous best at a world championships was an eighth-place finish in the 1m springboard in 2015, defied expectations. Of her five attempts, Kim posted her two best scores in the first two dives and managed to stay in medal contention the rest of the way.
Kim said afterward she was pleased to have put the sport of diving on the map among the otherwise indifferent South Korean public.
And in the process, Kim also prevented South Korea from becoming an answer to a trivia question.