For South Korean archers, winning Olympic gold medals is almost a given – they have won 23 of the 34 gold medals awarded in the sport since 1984.
It’s getting to the Games that is difficult.
Just ask Chang Hye-jin, who won two gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, or Ku Bon-chan, who achieved the same feat on the men’s side. Neither champion has been selected this year.
Or ask 17-year-old Kim Je-deok, who this spring managed to navigate the crucible of South Korea’s national team selection tournament, which brings together the country’s top 200 archers to compete for six tickets – for three men and three women – for the biggest sporting event in the world. , regardless of rankings or past performance.
“The chance of a lifetime has come to me,” said Kim, who recently overcame a shoulder injury that would have kept him from competing in the Olympics had it not been postponed for a year. .
South Korean archers have each fired thousands of arrows in several rounds of grueling competition spanning eight anxious months. For those who did, the hard part may now be over.
The South Korean archery team have won gold medals at every Summer Olympics since 1984. The women’s team has been particularly dominant, winning gold eight in a row since l he team event made its debut in 1988 in Seoul. In 2016, the men’s and women’s teams won gold medals in the team and individual events at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The team is famous in the archery world for the depth and detail of its preparations. National coaches use wind turbines and pump artificial noises (crowd noises, camera shutters) through speakers to simulate the adverse environmental conditions that athletes might encounter in competition.
Ahead of the Rio Games in 2016, archers trained in a live baseball game, an unorthodox way of exposing them to a pressure cooker atmosphere. This spring, training sessions at the Jincheon National Training Center were held in an arena modeled on the one they will see in Tokyo. Staff members have set up video screens, audience stands and banners where they are likely to be positioned at the Olympics. Simulated loudspeaker announcements in English and Japanese further set the mood.
“Our goal is zero-defect training,” said Jang Young-sool, vice president of the Korea Archery Association.
South Korean archers start out young, and those who succeed through the rigorous development pipeline have their careers supported by one of dozens of teams affiliated with national societies and universities. Kim, who is still in high school, first tried archery in third grade. In fifth grade, he dreamed of competing on the international stage.
“A talent like Je-deok only happens once every hundred years,” Yun Ok-hee, who won an individual gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, told Arirang News this year, speaking. by Kim Je-deok.
Four of the six South Korean archers will make their Olympic debuts, including Kang Chae-young, the world No.1 woman, who failed to qualify for the Rio Games in 2016 after losing a place in the last one. qualifying day. .
Kim faced an equally tense situation on the final day of competition at this year’s practice, needing to hit three 10s with his last three arrows to slip into the top three spots. He rallied, visualizing a practice session where he hit three 10s, then did just that, clinching a spot on the squad with the 2,952nd and final arrow he shot in competition.
He said he felt stressed and nervous throughout the practice. But the feeling was different now. “I’m more comfortable now,” Kim said, “because I believe in myself. “