¡¡ [54th Anniversary Special]

Archery's Golden Girl Park on Top of the World
Olympic Champ Shooting for More Medals

By Cho Jin-seo
Staff Reporter

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 three spots.

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 one-point victory.

``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 envy them.¡¯¡¯


10-31-2004 14:25

Park Sung-hyun claimed a pair of gold medals in archery at the Athens Olympics and continued to dominate with five more golds at the National Sports Festival. Korea Times Photo by Kim Hyun-tae

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