That’s sort of what Evan Ramstad asks at the WSJ’s Korea Realtime blog:

Maybe the Korean Olympic Committee was low-balling expectations. Or maybe South Koreans just can’t see themselves as world leaders in sports. After all, no matter the evidence to the contrary, they don’t see themselves that way in business or economics or politics.

But as The Who sang the athletes out of the closing ceremony on Monday morning Korea time, the tally on the medal board could not be denied. South Korea had 13 gold medals, fifth-highest total of the Games, and more than more populous countries like Japan, France, Italy, Brazil and Spain, let alone giants like India and Indonesia.
[...]
Even so, a government sports official could be counted upon to again declare that South Korea was at last among the world’s great nations instead of recognizing that it has been there for awhile now.

You do hear rhetoric like that—i.e., about Korea becoming or joining the ranks of the developed—quite a bit. Part of it is political, but I think a lot of it is that Korea grew so quickly, a lot of folk still don’t seem to believe where the country is in the global pecking order now.

(HT to Wangkon)