By Nataly Pak
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has given Olympic vault champion Yang Hak-seon some breathing room in his race to regain fitness after injury left his chances of making the team for the Rio Games hanging by a thread.
Yang ruptured his right Achilles in March during practice but was included in a preliminary list for the Rio Olympics announced on Sunday by the Korea Gymnastic Association (KGA).
The 23-year-old, who became South Korea's first gold medal winner in gymnastics at the 2012 London Games, would be the country's best hope of a medal in Rio if he was fit, KGA official Han Chung-sik told Reuters on Monday.
"Under normal circumstances, Yang Hak-seon would be our strongest athlete at the Olympics," Han said by telephone, adding that he had until the final trials in July to prove his fitness.
"We have a regulation that allows us to recommend athletes with a high possibility of winning a medal in various competitions so we’ve put him in according to the regulation.”
The KGA said that if Yang made the team they would try to send another gymnast as cover in case the injury flared up.
Yang Bu-kwon, the head of the gymnast's management agency, told Reuters that since undergoing surgery in late March, Yang has shown an unexpectedly quick recovery.
"Even the doctor is very positive and Hak-seon is showing a very strong will to make this possible," he said.
"He's been training for this moment for four years and his condition before the unfortunate injury is better than it was in 2012.
"He still needs to be very careful so he will continue his rehab and remain positive about competing."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)