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Shooting for gold

“We will win gold in Robin Hood’s home country, the United Kingdom." This is the mindset and mission of the Korean National Archery Team, the best in the world, as they begin training for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Korea has won a total of 16 gold medals in the span of seven Olympic Games, from the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. At the 2008 Olympics, Korea won two gold, two silver and one bronze medal, and the small country is consistently one of the top competitors in archery.

Koreans have long excelled in the sport throughout their history. In the past, China called Koreans “Dongi," which means Easterners who shoot well with a bow. Even the progenitor of the ancient nation Goguryeo (37BC - 668AD), King Dongmyeong, was famed for his skill with the bow and arrow.

Archers compete for spots on the 2011 National Team.
Archers compete for spots on the 2011 National Team.

The field of archery is so competitive that people at the training facility where the national team practices say that it is more difficult to be chosen for either the Korean National Archery or Taekwondo Teams than to win a gold medal in the actual Olympics.

This level of competition is due to the fact that there is a large pool of talent in terms of archers in Korea. Even the famed, multi gold-winning Im Donghyun ? known for his talent despite being legally blind ? is not guaranteed a returning spot on the National Team each year. "Although Im is one of the top people in the sport, there are many others in Korea with a similar level of talent,” says coach Oh Sun-taek.

The Korea Archery Association holds several rounds of qualifying matches to choose a total of 12 male and female members for the Korean National Archery Team. From this elite group, more qualifiers will be held in March and April to decide which six will go on to the Summer Olympics.

An archer (left) hugs her teammates at the 16th Asian Games. Park Kyung-mo(right) shoots at the 2008 Olympics.
An archer (left) hugs her teammates at the 16th Asian Games. Park Kyung-mo(right) shoots at the 2008 Olympics.

General manager Jang Young-sul has announced the start of intensive stamina training and field exercises on mountains. The team cannot be guaranteed the gold with archery skills alone. “Olympic Game schedules are tight with preliminaries early in the morning and the finals the same evening,” Oh explains, and without the stamina to compete all day long, it would be difficult to earn the gold no matter how on-target one’s aim is.

To become a Korean National Archery Team member, one must also train the mind for concentration. Im and fellow teammate Yoon Ok-hee participated in special training sessions before the 2008 Summer Olympics. Others trained at the Army Intelligence School in order to learn to keep calm in any number of extreme circumstances, from mazes dotted with hidden surprises and live snakes being placed in athletes’ pockets.

Archers compete for spots on the 2011 National Team. Of course, the outside environment includes all manner of factors. The team trained at noisy baseball stadiums and motorboat racing arenas ahead of the 2008 Olympics, to prepare for the noise levels at Beijing Olympic Green Archery Field. And if Beijing had a lot of noise, the London Olympic Archery Range will have a lot of wind. During the practice games, many athletes missed the target altogether because of strong winds that change direction frequently.

Though the situation on the field suggests that luck, and not archery skill, will determine which color medal is won, Oh disagrees. “A gold medal cannot be won solely on archery skills alone, and if the surroundings are poor, they must be overcome,” he believes.

With the help of the Korea Archery Association and Korea Institute of Sport Science, the winds on the London Olympic Archery Range are being analyzed. Rather than hope the wind stops on a draw, the Korean National Archery Team members will need to develop the ability to shoot arrows depending on predictable wind changes.

“We are in the process of analyzing the winds at Lord’s Cricket Ground, which will be the venue for the London Olympic archery competitions. We are planning to train on Jejudo Island, where there are strong gusts of wind, and on the East Sea coast in Gangwondo Province, where the winds are very similar to those in London,” Oh reveals.

With such thorough preparation, does the Korean National Archery Team have any weaknesses? Oh says yes. Foreign athletes can gain experience in international competitions without being stressed about National Team qualifying matches, whereas Korean athletes with overseas experience are rare due to heavy domestic competition.

This is why the coaching staff stresses the importance of a well-rounded training experience. “We cannot have a false sense of comfort and relax after mastering technical skills. We need to be two or three levels ahead of the competition to win the gold.”

*Article from Korea Magazine

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