The standing joke in South Korean sport is that it’s harder to get a spot on the women’s Olympic archery team than win a gold medal, but for rivals tasked with ending a streak that goes back to the 1988 Seoul Games that dominance is no laughing matter.
Archery has been a gold mine for Korea since the sport returned to the Olympics in its modern format in 1972.
The country’s athletes have captured 19 of the 36 gold medals up for grabs, including all seven of the women’s team titles since the event was introduced at the 1988 Seoul Games.
That success has naturally created a burden of expectation at home and Koreans routinely factor in a minimum of two archery golds in their medal projections, but defending individual champion Ki Bo-bae says pressure comes with the territory.
“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.”
Bidding to narrow the gap, Korea’s rivals have adopted something of a “If you can’t be them, hire them” approach.
At the London Games, 11 other countries had Korean coaches on staff, including the United States, Italy and Mexico the other three semi-finalists in the men’s team event.
That diffusion of expertise should present more challengers for gold in Rio, with Ki singling out improving Taiwan as a threat to team and individual titles.
However, there was no doubt which step on the podium Ki thinks she will be standing when the medals are given out.
“I am going to think of this as my last Olympics, and I am going to prepare to give it my all,” she said. “I will make sure I return after singing the national anthem.”
On the men’s side, the United States will have a real chance to improve on their team silver from four years ago, with Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski returning to the fray, while London gold medallists Italy have 2004 individual champion Marco Galiazzo in their ranks once again.
South Korea, who have won four of the seven Olympic men’s team titles, are represented by world number one Kim Woo-jin, Ku Bon-chan and Lee Seung-yun.
While all three are making their Olympic debuts, their rivals should not expect an easier ride. Oh Jin-hyek, who became the first Korean to win the men’s individual title in London, could not even get a place on the team.