By Peter Rutherford
SEOUL (Reuters) – Ki Bo-bae is under no illusions about the pressure she will face in Rio as she bids to become the first archer to defend an individual Olympic title but after shooting more than 500 arrows a day intraining the South Korean is ready for the challenge.
Archery has been a gold mine forKorea at the Olympics with the country’s athletes hogging 19 of the 36 titles up for grabs since the sport returned in its modern format in 1972.
The strong performance of the archery team, who have won at least two golds at each Games since 1988, has helped the Koreans to punch above their weight in the overall medals table.
With that success has come expectation, Ki told Reuters.
“Previous Korean archery teams have left a legacy with their great achievements and for many South Koreans when they think of the Olympics they remember how successful our archers have been,” she said.
“So there is a bit of pressure weighing on our shoulders in that regard. But we have to think positive and the only way to overcome that pressure is through training.”
Training is something the Koreans take very seriously.
Still sporting nasty sunburn from a practice session on Mount Halla on Korea’s Jeju Island, Ki loosed arrows with frightening accuracy at the target as torrential rain hammered down at the Taeneung national training center in Seoul.
If Ki was distracted by the rain she did not show it. Cameras flashed, telephones rang, the media jostled for position but still she did not flinch.
Hardly surprising, though, given that the team practiced at a baseball stadium last weekend before a domestic league game in order to get used to crowd noise.
Such has been the success of Korean archers that their coaches are in high demand around the world, which has gone some way to leveling the playing field.
“It’s true that the average level of technique and skills have gone up but Asian athletes are still head and shoulders above everyone else,” said Ki.
While Korea are confident of getting golds in archery as well as shooting, judo and taekwondo, two of their biggest stars may not be on the plane to Rio.
Olympic vault champion Yang Hak-seon missed two selection trials due to a torn Achilles but a gymnastics official said on Tuesday they would hold three more trials in the hope that he would be fit enough to try to claim a place on their five-man team.
The situation regarding swimmer Park Tae-hwan remains in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Park, the first Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal when he won the 400 meters freestyle gold in Beijing, completed an 18-month doping ban imposed by world governing body FINA in March.
However, as per Korea Olympic Committee regulations, he was then subject to an additional three-year ban from the day the FINA suspension expired.
Park took his case to the CAS and filed an injunction with a local court, which ruled he should be eligible for selection.
“The opinion from CAS has not come out yet,” national Olympic Committee President Kim Jung-haeng said at a news conference. “We would need to respect both the ruling from the Seoul Eastern District Court and also the CAS ruling.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)