Asian Games: South Korea out to end Thailand's sepak takraw stranglehold

INCHEON (REUTERS) - South Korea's sepak takraw team will count on "world-class killers, feeders and tekongs" to end the Asian Games dominance of powerhouses Thailand and hope the event will help boost local interest in the electrifying, acrobatic sport.

The Thais have won 18 of the 27 Asian Games gold medals awarded in sepak takraw, which sees players twist and turn their bodies in mid-air to send a rattan ball into the opposing court using their feet, legs and head.

South Korea is the only country from outside South-east Asia to win gold at the Games, taking the men's circle title in 2002 in Busan, and women's head coach Min Seung Ki said the hosts would not be content with just being on the podium in Incheon.

"What matters is the colour of medals," she said at Bucheon Gymnasium on Wednesday. "We expect at least one gold."

Min had no doubt who the main threats were at the Sept 19 to Oct 4 Games in Incheon, west of Seoul.

"Thailand is the strongest," he said, adding that Myanmar had been playing their cards close to the chest and had yet to reveal their strongest team.

South Korea's Sim Su Yeon, whose job as tekong is to play at the back of the court, said she hoped the Asian Games would provide the sport with some much-needed exposure. "Sepak takraw is not a sport widespread around the country," she said.

"That's why those who have heard of the sport come to watch, but those without prior knowledge don't come and watch. I hope many South Koreans like sepak takraw."

Sim, who stands just 1.63m, said she had to improvise to make the best of her physique at the position.

"I am short, compared to typical tekongs. They usually have strong serves striking downward from their height. My strength in service is that I can come up with a variety of trajectories."

Striker Kim Young Man said wins over strong South-east Asian teams in international competitions had cemented the resolve of the men's side ahead of the Asian Games. "We proved that our team had improved a lot over traditional powerhouses such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand," he said, adding that the team carried a "must win gold" mentality into the Games on home soil.

"By winning gold, we will able to expand the base of the sport in South Korea and give it more public exposure," he added. "Winning gold is our duty."