By Cho Jin-seo
For the last 20 years, the women¡¯s archery field
has been dominated by South Korea, and Park Sung-hyun is sharpest
shooter around right now. There is no doubting that.
In August, the 21-year-old won the gold medal in
the individual and team events at the Athens Olympics, becoming South
Korea¡¯s only multi-gold medallist at the Games. Upon returning home,
she continued her dominance by claiming five gold medals for the North
Cholla Province team at the National Sports Festival in October, while
also setting four new world records in the 70-meter, individual
overall, team overall and team tournament events.
As a result she was a unanimous choice as the
most valuable player of the NSF, claiming all 21 votes cast by
reporters, proving once again she is not only the best archer in the
world, but also the most impressive athlete of the year.
But such shining achievements _ two Olympic gold
medals, four world records and the honor of the MVP _ do not guarantee
anything for future, Park said.
``It is much more difficult to win a national
competition than to win a gold in the Olympics,¡¯¡¯ said at her team¡¯s
practice range in Chonju, North Cholla Province, pointing out that the
depth of Korean archery is deeper than anywhere else. Due to the tight
schedules over the last two months, Park has also suffered from an
occupational hazard, a sore tendon in her wrist, and has to live with a
protector for few weeks.
``I don¡¯t have the luxury of thinking about next
Olympics, or even the next World Championship. I have to pass the
national qualifier before looking farther than that,¡¯¡¯ she said.
It may sound too modest for the world No. 1 to
worry about local competitions, but that definitely is the case, and
history attests to it. Of the six Olympic winners, four have failed to
qualify for the national team four years later, and not one has
repeated the individual title. Even Kim Soo-nyeong, the 1988 Olympics¡¯
winner who is often called the ``heavenly archer¡¯¡¯ and has an archery
range named after her, had to be satisfied at adding a silver medal to
her trophy chest in 1992 and a bronze in 2000 in the individual event.
``The difference in abilities of the archers here is paper-thin. Obviously some of them are better than me,¡¯¡¯ Park explained.
Another long journey for the next gold medal has
already started, as the first round of the national qualifier for the
next year¡¯s World Championship began last Wednesday. Fortunately, Park
was awarded a bye as a current team member, but she will have to pick
up the bow from the second round where 72 archers, including former
world champions Yun Mi-jin and Kim Kyung-wook, will take aim at the
Born in the port city of Kunsan, an hour
northwest from Chonju, Park started archery out of curiosity in
elementary school. However, It was only after she graduated from high
school that her talent became apparent. Working with coach Seo Oh-seok,
Park rapidly improved and let the world know her name by winning the
World Championship in 2001.
``I am the kind of person who likes to hear
straight words like `do it now,¡¯ rather than ¡®how about doing this.¡¯
And fortunately my coach is that kind of person,¡¯¡¯ she said, giving
plenty of credit to her mentor.
Park, standing at 1.70 meters and weighing 71 kg,
has an ideal body for an archer, said Seo, who also coached the
national team in Athens. While most female archers use 40-42 pound
bows, Park carries a 44-pound one, mostly used by male archers.
``Also I don¡¯t easily get upset or excited, and
that trait has helped me during the pressure of competition,¡¯¡¯ she
said. Even when she hit the perfect 10 with her last arrow to win the
gold in the Athens final, which probably was the most exciting moment
of her life, she just smiled for a few seconds, and didn¡¯t get carried
away because she ``didn¡¯t want to make her opponent feel bad.¡¯¡¯
As a regular participant of international events,
Park said she is familiar with many of foreign archers though she
seldom talks with them.
``Unlike Korea, other countries have few top-class archers, so they are the same faces every year,¡¯¡¯ she said.
As for who has made the biggest impression on her, Park replies China¡¯s Zhang Juanjuan.
People here may remember Zhang for her hasty
celebration during the team final event of the Athens Olympics. With
only three arrows left for South Korea¡¯s last shooter Park in the last
round, China leading by 26 points. When Park scored a nine and an eight
with her first two arrows Zhang started to do a little victory dance as
if her team had already won, which many South Koreans found offensive.
But then Park stopped Zhang cold by hitting the bull¡¯s eye for a
``I wish we can meet again in Beijing (at the next Olympics),¡¯¡¯ Park added, this time laughing loud with her eyes almost closed.
After her competitive career is over, Park said
she wants to be a school teacher, but added that she will continue with
archery as long as she enjoys it.
``Most foreign players have other jobs and
archery is just a weekend hobby for them. They do it for fun, and they
really enjoy playing even in the most serious matches and can continue
their career even after getting married and having children,¡¯¡¯ Park
explained. ``But we can¡¯t do it like that. Everyone in South Korea
expects the gold medal from us, so the pressure is so heavy. I really