On the road to Tokyo: star archer Chang and the team going for nine successive golds
As two-time Olympic archery gold medallist Chang Hye-jin (KOR) aims to make history at Tokyo 2020, her biggest challenge could be getting through the Republic of Korea’s tough national team selections.
The Republic of Korea women’s archery team is going for a ninth consecutive Olympic title at Tokyo 2020, and two-time champion Chang Hye-jin is aiming to play a key part in that push for glory.
But first Chang, who won gold in the women’s individual and team events at Rio 2016, must successfully navigate Korean archery’s notoriously tough national selection process.
“It’s just hard to imagine Korea’s selection tournaments,” the 31-year-old said. “I don't know if I’m getting tired because I’m getting older or because other archers’ skills have improved. And this year, I expect it will be a lot of trouble because when the World Championships are over (held in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, 10-16 June), next year’s selection will start right away in September.
“It’s just tough and it’s hard, but at that moment, I compete with the trust of God, who has given me the power.”
The Republic of Korea dominates Olympic archery, and its selection process has often been described as tougher than international competition itself. Only three women qualify each year to represent the country internationally and, at this year’s selection process in April, the Daegu-born Chang became one of them, giving her a precious few weeks before she and her team defend the world title they won in Mexico City in 2017. Then, regardless of results, she must defend her place in the star-studded national team.
Chang took up archery while at elementary school, but didn’t initially associate the sport with the Olympic Games.
“I wasn’t really interested in the Olympics,” she said. “The first time I watched it on TV was when Park Sung-hyun and Park Kyung-mo (KOR) were competing at Beijing 2008. As an athlete it was very late that I got interested in the Olympics, because I thought that the Games and the national team were very far away from me.”
Park Sung-hyun won gold in the women’s team competition and silver in the individual tournament at Beijing 2008, while Park Kyung-mo repeated the feat in the men’s events. The same year, Chang competed in her first international event, the 2008 World University Archery Championships in Tainan, Chinese Taipei. Eight years later, she had won two gold medals at Rio 2016, making her name one of the biggest in archery.
“It’s not like many people recognise me on the street,” Chang said. “However, after the Rio Olympics, many fans (now) send gifts and snacks and come and cheer for me in competitions. I’m always grateful for this and think that I’ve been doing well so far. And I think I can help my family a bit more now because I can assist them financially. That was probably the best thing (following her Rio 2016 success), and it was perhaps my biggest goal so far, so I feel a bit relieved now.”
The Korean women have won all eight Olympic competitions since the team event was introduced to the Games programme at Seoul 1988, and Chang’s next big dream is to make it a ninth consecutive gold medal.
“The Tokyo Olympics has once again become a big goal for me,” she said. “It won’t be easy, but I think it would be an honour to write history for Korean archery if I succeed.”
Training for new Olympic glory, Chang shoots about 350 arrows a day at the national Olympic training centre in Seoul. The training also includes hard physical work to strengthen her focus in competitions.
“I’m interested in physical aspects that can support my concentration,” she said. “So for example I now train (by) running, and strengthening muscle endurance.”
Even though Tokyo 2020 is constantly on her mind, Chang knows that there are many hurdles still to face.
“I’m focusing on the World Championships (which serve as the primary qualification tournament for next year’s Games) right in front of me, and I’m still not very conscious of the Olympics because then I have to prepare for next year’s selection. However, it is still true that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are always in mind.”
As she prepares for 15 intense months of qualification, competition and training, Chang has also been dreaming of life after Tokyo 2020.
“I think it’s the beginning from now on, so I’m going to take one step at a time and try to have confidence in my skills,” she said. “If I would have the honour of taking part in the Olympics again, I would be so happy after it is over, and I would like to have enough rest. And when I think about my age, I want to marry a good person,” she said.