TOKYO (Reuters) -An San kept South Korea’s Olympic flag flying in women’s archery on Friday as she took the individual title, shrugging off online bullying over her hairstyle to become the first archer to win three golds at a single Games.
Top-seeded An held her nerve as her final and semi-final went to shootoffs, downing Elena Osipova of the Russian Olympic Committee to take gold. Lucilla Boari claimed bronze to become the first Italian female archer to win an Olympic medal.
The 20-year-old South Korean An, already a double gold medallist in the women’s and mixed teams events, became a target for online hostility at home after cutting her hair short, a look labelled “feminist” by some social media users.
That term has become associated with a rise in misogynist sentiment among South Korean young men..
When she talked to reporters her coach intervened and told them not to ask questions unrelated to the competition. She herself refused to answer a question about online bullying.
Calm and quiet, An managed to keep her heart rate low at around 100 beats per minute even during the sudden death shoot-offs, when her Russian opponent’s rate shot above 160 bpm.
In an Olympic first, more than 100 archers are broadcasting their heart rates as they go for bullseye at the Tokyo Games, captured by contactless health monitoring.
“I was trying to calm myself down and talked to myself– ‘Don’t be coy and just shoot’,” An said of the shoot-offs.
In her the semi-final, An beat American Mackenzie Brown – herself subject to criticism on social media for choosing to compete unvaccinated against COVID-19.
An’s win was celebrated to K-pop band BTS’s song “Permission to Dance” and Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung, who heads the Korea Archery Association. The auto conglomerate is a major sponsor of South Korean archery.
Sitting with the coaches and staff at the stand, Chung, soaked in sweat, supported An with loud cheers of “Dae-han-min-guk”, the country’s name in Korean.
After confirming her victory, An let her guard down, teared up during the medal ceremony and was later jubilant, taking selfies with the gold medal and checking a text message from her mother.
Traditionally dominant in the sport, South Korea’s women’s team gold was their ninth in succession in the event, equalling the overall Olympic record.
An also became the first South Korean to win three golds at a single Olympic games.
An’s team mates, however, had a mostly disappointing individual competition. Kang Chae-young, was unexpectedly knocked out on Friday in the women’s quarter-finals.
“I thought I shot good, but not many arrows hit 10s,” a tearful Kang, seeded three, said after falling to Osipova, the 22nd seed.
Kang said she was aware of the criticism of An’s hair, adding that the team was ignoring it to maintain the focus on their matches.
Apart from An, the only other archer still in contention among the six South Koreans who entered the individual events is Kim Woo-jin from the men’s team, who will shoot on Saturday.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; editing by John Stonestreet and Ken Ferris)