What makes South Korea supremely dominant in archery at the Olympics? -Sports News, Firstpost

South Korea’s prowess in archery is unmatched, particularly in the women’s team event where they have won golds in every edition since it was introduced in 1988. What makes them so formidable? Firstpost Explains

Nine years ago, South Korean archers returned from London Olympics with four medals from the four events held. Yet, there was a sense of dismay. One of the medals — in the men’s team event — had been just a bronze.

For many countries around the world, a bronze medal is a cause for celebration. Not for South Korea. Particularly not in archery.

South Korea are a dynasty when it comes to archery. The country’s archers have won 39 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, nine silver and seven bronze. But when the focus shifts to women’s team archery event, they’re unbeatable, with gold medals to show for in every edition since women’s archery joined the Olympics in 1988 at Seoul.

Not just the medal count, the country depth heading into the Olympics is also usually formidable.

Take for example the Rio Olympics, where South Korean archers swept gold in all four events. Choi Mi-sun was the reigning women’s World No 1. But she lost in the quarters at Rio 2016. Ki Bo-bae, the defending Olympic champion, lost in the semis. For any other country, losing two top-class archers before the final would be cause for despair. But their compatriot Chang Hye-jin went all the way, clinching gold in the women’s individual event.

In the men’s individual event too, while South Korea’s World No 1 Kim Woo-jin crashed out in the second round, compatriot Ku Bon-chan claimed gold.

So just how did South Korea become a powerhouse in archery?

There are multiple reasons behind the fact that a country with a population approximately half of that of the state of Maharashtra is so dominant in archery. Some of the reasons which pop up, border on the ludicrous, such as “kimchi fingers and chopsticks”, which have been claimed to be the reason Korean archers have heightened dexterity in their fingers.

Outlandish theories aside, there are a few seemingly simple answers to the question.

Catch ’em young

Atanu Das, one of India’s best recurve archers, has spent all his career going arrow-to-arrow with the South Koreans. Some of his biggest competitors in Tokyo later this month will be from South Korea.

Ask him the reason behind South Korea’s prowess in archery, and he has a simple assessment: “South Korean archers start at a very young age, some start when they’re just three. Then they also have a lot of academies or schools where they’re given training since they’re kids. There are a lot of competitive tournaments held in the country. So, from a young age, they’re taught the basics very well. “

Rather than trying to instill competitiveness from a young age — in manner countries like China are known to do with their athletes — South Korean kids are nudged to enjoy the sport when they’re young. The younger the archers, the lighter and smaller the bows they are taught with, with the target’s distance also being reduced early on. The focus in the early days is maintaining correct posture and working on the form of shooting, rather than hitting the bullseye or winning.

“Kids are first taught to enjoy the sport, and then when they’re slightly older, the basics of the sport are instilled in them. Their archers do not focus on education too much. In India, we have to focus first on studies, ”said Atanu, who pointed out that he started around the age of 14-15. “It takes you a minimum of five years as a recurve archer to understand the basics, fine-tune your technique, and become an archer at a certain level. These things make the South Korean archers stand out. ”

Coached for success

Few years ago, Atanu had a training stint in South Korea under the legendary ‘Coach Kim’ (Kim Hyung Tak), who runs an academy there, one of the best and oldest academies of the sport.

“There I learned a lot of things: How to analyze your form yourself; how to use video analysis in your training. If you see, I’ve not had a personal coach since 2013. I do my own analysis. From the South Korea stint, I learned which things to focus on, which things to ignore and how to change things when your scores are not good, ”Atanu had told Firstpost last year.

“The other thing that separates the South Korean archers is the coaching they get. Their coaches are very knowledgeable. Since they start so young ― as young as three years of age ― and then keep getting consistent training under knowledgeable coaches, imagine how good they will be by the time they’re just 20 years old.

“Just as an example, if you have three-four good coaches in India, you will find 50 good coaches in South Korea. Their pool of quality archers is very deep. If one archer is not performing well, they will be replaced by someone else. ”

Not just their depth of archers, their depth of coaching is equally impressive. At Rio, as many as 10 national teams were being coached by South Korean coaches.

Simulate and conquer

One of the reasons you are inevitably given as a way to explain South Korea’s dominance in the sport is their centuries-long history with horseback archery. But what makes South Korean archers world-class is their reliance on scientific methods of training.

It was reported after in the build-up to Rio 2016, the Korean archers had seen a simulation of competition while their brainwaves were monitored to track their shooting psychology better.

South Koreans are known to be meticulous in planning for an event like the Olympics. It is not uncommon for archers in Korea to train under a variety of conditions, such as in noisy baseball stadiums, before an Olympics.

Before Rio 2016, the archers trained at Seoul’s Korean National Training Center, where an exact replica of the Sambodromo ― which hosted the Olympics archery event ― was set up.

They are also known to train under different weather conditions, such as on windy days or when it is raining. The Indians have also started using some of these techniques while training at the Army Sports Institute in Pune.

“They’re also known to train for competition by simulating conditions, like before Rio 2016, they had trained in baseball stadiums with noisy fans. They try and recreate the entire tournament experience while they’re preparing for it. They keep experimenting with things. They keep putting their fans to use to help them with training, ”said Atanu.

At Tokyo 2020, South Korean archers can better their Rio 2016 clean sweep of four gold medals, since, with the introduction of the mixed team event, there will be five medals on offer.

But the COVID-19 pandemic will also make it an unusual Olympics. International fans are banned. Local fans might be banned if cases of the virus start spiraling in and around Tokyo. On top of that, every athlete will compete with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads considering one positive test could end their Games.

While the circumstances of these unusual Olympics will catch many athletes off-guard, you can be certain the Koreans, with their habit of preparing for every imaginable situation, will come prepared.

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