South Korea Olympic committee wants athletes at boot camp

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's Olympic committee is pushing to send hundreds of athletes to a military training center to enhance their mental toughness for the Paris Olympics, a move that has been criticized as outdated and regressive.

The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee advised domestic associations last week to send athletes to the Korea Marine Corps camp in the southeastern port city of Pohang for three days of training this month, according to some associations.

About 320 athletes are expected at the boot camp, committee officials said Thursday. Sports associations have previously asked their athletes to take marine-style training ahead of big sports events but it's the first time the Olympic committee has recommended it, committee officials said.

Those officials reportedly decided on the camp following the Asian Games in China in October, when South Korea finished third in the gold medal count to China and Japan.

After the Asian Games, Olympic committee head Lee Kee-heung floated the idea of marine camp training and said athletes would be joined by top committee officials including himself, according to South Korean media reports.

Messages slamming and deriding the Olympic committee plan flooded South Korean social media and internet sites.

Details of the Dec. 18-20 camp in Pohang are still under discussion between the Olympic committee and the Korea Marine Corps. But previous pre-Olympic marine camp training involving fencers, wrestlers and handballers included rappelling courses and carrying 310-pound inflatable boats on their heads together.

Reached by The Associated Press, South Korea's wrestling and breakdancing associations said they won't send their athletes to the marine camp because they have competitions when the training is scheduled.

South Korea has risen from war, poverty and military dictatorships to a cultural and economic powerhouse with a vibrant democracy. But many in South Korea still link success in big sports events like the Olympics to national pride, and problems related to training culture have often been ignored as long as athletes succeeded.

Male athletes are exempted from 18 to 21 months of mandatory military service if they win a gold medal at the Asian Games and any medal at the Olympics.