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Staged at the Sambodromo, the venue for the city’s world-famous carnival, the Rio 2016 archery competition got under way before the Opening Ceremony, with the ranking rounds in the men’s and women’s individual competitions, which also doubled up as the qualifiers for the two team competitions.
The Republic of Korea’s much-vaunted archers wasted little time in making their presence felt. Setting the tone was world No2 Kim Woojin, who scored a world record 700 points in the men’s 72-arrow ranking round. Combined with the scores of compatriots Ku Bonchan and Lee Seungyun, that performance helped the Korean trio qualify in first place in the team event, earning them a bye into the quarter-finals.
Their fellow countrywomen were in equally impressive form. World No1 Choi Misun led the way in the ranking round with a score of 669, while Chang Hyejin qualified in second place with 666 and two-time London 2012 gold medallist Ki Bobae finished a further three points behind in third. Predicting what lay ahead, the 20-year-old Choi said: “We have the best archers. We have the talent and the skill.”
The opening day of competition at Rio 2016 saw Ku, Kim and Lee secure the Republic of Korea country’s 20th archery gold without dropping a single set. After overcoming the Netherlands and Australia by identical 6-0 scorelines, the Korean trio lined up in the final against fellow archery superpower the USA, who beat Indonesia 6-2 and China 6-0 en route to the gold medal match.
Despite boasting a strong team featuring Zach Garrett, Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski, ranked third, seventh and 26th in the world respectively, the Americans were a clear second best to their Korean opponents, all three of whom feature among the top six archers on the planet. Firing all six of their arrows into the 10 in the first set, the Koreans kept the pressure on with some superlative marksmanship, with Ku hitting the 10-ring with each and every one of his arrows in a comprehensive victory that avenged the semi-final defeat to the Americans at London 2012.
While the Americans were left to collect a second consecutive silver in the event, the Koreans were only too pleased to be back on top. “I’ve been waiting for this moment, to win the gold medal, for four years,” said Kim. “We believed in ourselves and it happened, it just happened. We always say that we have faith in each other. We talk all the time to push each other on. Ku was outstanding, but this was teamwork. Everyone did brilliantly.” Australia, who downed France in the quarters, beat China 6-2 to win the bronze, their first archery medal in 12 years.
With Choi, Ki and Chang also ranked in the world’s top six, the Republic of Korea’s women were the clear favourites for team gold, a status they backed up by beating the Russian trio of Tuiana Dashidorzhieva, Ksenia Perova and Inna Stepanova 5-1 in the final. That handsome victory maintained the Asian nation’s remarkable unbeaten record in the competition, a run that stretches back to the event’s introduction at Seoul 1988 and which has brought them eight Olympic titles in a row. For the 28-year-old Ki, a five-time world champion, victory gave her a third Olympic gold to go with the two she won in London four years earlier.
The Koreans were relentless in their run to the final, scoring 5-1 wins over Japan in the last eight and Chinese Taipei in the semis, while the Russians edged out India 5-4 and Italy 5-3. The silver they went on to win was their country’s first in Olympic archery and their first medal in the sport since Bair Badenov took bronze in the men’s competition at Beijing 2008. Led by world No2 Tan Ya-Ting, Chinese Taipei beat Italy 5-3 to complete the podium.
“When it’s time for me to sleep, I always think about archery. That is why I can stay on top,” said Ki, who was delighted to have the support of the gold-medal-winning Republic of Korea men’s team: “They also helped by telling us how to handle the venue. That really helped me in the matches today and that is why I got good results.” Savouring the first gold of her Olympic career, Chang said the win tasted “sweet”, while team-mate Choi, herself a first-time champion at the Games, added that she was hungry for more in the individual competition, an event she would start as favourite.
As it turned out, however, it was Chang and not Choi who stepped up to collect women’s individual gold and give the Republic of Korea their third archery title at Rio 2016. Ranked sixth in the world, Chang beat team-mate Ki 7-3 in the semi-finals before defeating Germany’s Lisa Unruh 6-2 in the final. Ki came back to land the bronze, her fourth Olympic medal, while Choi missed out altogether, beaten 6-0 to Mexico’s Alejandra Valencia in the quarter-finals.
Responding to her slightly unexpected win, a delighted Chang said: “I’m very proud at winning the Olympic gold medal. I tried to think positive thoughts and to stay confident so I could win the final.” Unruh’s silver was Germany’s first ever Olympic individual archery medal, a feat that prompted her to say: “It’s amazing. I can’t believe that I’m an Olympic medallist. I’m so happy I can hardly speak. In ten years, I’ve never worked as hard as I have this year. This medal is a big, big gift for me, and I’m going off to the Germany Centre to celebrate.”
Ku made it four archery golds out of four for the Republic of Korea at Rio 2016, beating France’s Jean-Charles Valladont 7-3 in the final of the men’s individual competition to secure his second title of the Games. In the bronze medal match, Brady Ellison of the USA defeated the Netherlands’ Sjef van den Berg 6-2 to add a second medal to the silver he won in the team event.
Underlining why he is the current world No1, Ku held his nerve throughout a thrilling competition. After advancing comfortably enough in his first two matches, the Korean edged out Germany’s Florian Floto 6-4 in the Round of 16 before being taken to one-arrow shootoffs by Australia’s Taylor Worth in the quarters and Ellison in the semis, Ku emerging victorious on both occasions, by 10-9 and 9-8 respectively. For his part, Valladont also came through a quarter-final shootoff, beating London 2012 team gold medallist Mauro Nespoli of Italy 10-8 and then seeing off the promising Van den Berg by seven sets to three to clinch a place in the final. After losing the first two sets of the gold medal match and tying the third, the Frenchman came back to win the fourth. Unable to sustain his challenge, however, he had to settle for silver behind the Korean.
I’m so happy,” said Ku, who along with his coach bowed to the crowd after his victory. The new champion revealed his coach had played a key part in the win, giving him a motivational talk before the final : “He said, ‘You’re not focusing on your arrows. You're thinking about the other guy’s arrows and the score. Just focus on what you do’.” Asked if he thought his country’s archers would continue to enjoy such stunning success in the future, he replied: “No, I’m not so sure about that. What is certain, though, is that we are preparing better every time for the Olympics.”
Reflecting on the finest result of his career, Valladont said: “It feels wonderful. Once I’d got through to the final it was easier for me because I knew I had a guaranteed medal. I just enjoyed it and I didn’t feel any pressure, though I did everything I could to win the match. That’s sport, and it’s the best man who wins. I shot well but Ku was so so strong.”
Disappointed to lose to Ku in the semis, Ellison said: “I was pushing for gold but I had a bad shot, so I’m bringing home the bronze. I wasn’t in the match [the semi-final], and I knew if I wanted to come home with a medal that I needed to get in gear and get into this match [the bronze medal match]. I shot 30 to get ahead and he opened the door for me. Thankfully, I was able to get through it. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for 10 years.”