Korean Archery Faces Tough Challenge
By D. Peter Kim
South Korea has achieved its target of winning at least 10 gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, but its archery dominance has taken a hit.
The country failed to win individual golds, though it did claim both team titles.
The first upset was by Zhang Juanjuan of China, who won her country's first gold in the sport Aug. 14 and broke South Korea's 24-year Olympic stranglehold on the women's individual competition.
Considered a heavy underdog, Zhang upset three South Koreans in her win, edging world champion and top-seeded Park Sung-hyun, 110-109, in the final.
The three South Koreans had taken the top three spots in the ranking round, while Zhang was placed a lowly 29th.
South Korea had won all women's individual golds in archery since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The second upset was pulled off by unheralded Viktor Ruban of Ukraine, who beat Park Kyung-mo in the men's individual competition, 113-112. Ruban had finished 13th in Athens.
South Korea won its sixth straight women's team title and third straight men's championship this year. Other countries are getting better, however, as more South Korean coaches go abroad to ply their trade.
Twelve countries other than South Korea have ethnic Korean coaches, and this is bridging the gap.
Tom Dielen, secretary general of archery's world governing body FITA, said that despite South Korea's dominance, the rest of the world is catching up. ``The difference is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. We have seen during the World Cup this year and last year that they are not as invincible as they have been,'' he said.
Still, South Korea remains the world's most successful archery nation for a number of reasons, real or imagined. Reuters said the country's success seems to stem from exhaustive preparation, state-of-the-art training techniques and a secret ingredient ― archery DNA.
An innovation for the Beijing Games was to revamp the practice grounds to simulate the venue in Beijing, including mock seats and spectators.
To train player concentration, coaches yelled and stomped around the stands to simulate crowd distractions. Loud music was also played to further test focus.
The intense competition to make the South Korean team also produces deadeye sharpshooters. With so many talented archers competing for a spot, surviving the team trials is a major accomplishment in itself.
Kim Soo-nyung, who won four gold medals between 1988 and 2000 in the women's competition, said, "But when you get through it, it's almost like the qualifiers are tougher than winning the gold medal at the Games."
``So when you're playing in the real thing, you play with the confidence that you've already been through the toughest part of it.''
Certain Korean archers also cite physiological, mental and spiritual traits that set them apart from the rest.
World record holder Yoon Ok-hee, a member of the gold medal-winning women's team this year, said Korean women have heightened finger sensitivity that makes them better at ``feel'' sports such as archery.
``Our sensitive fingertips handed down from our ancestors and our spiritual strength and willingness to fight to the very end are our secrets,'' Yoon said.