The Korean sports press have started the Rio hype early, and have been pulling in all their best prospects for a quote – however reluctant. Here’s what Oh Jin-Hyek had to say:
“So… erm…the last 4 years flew by quickly since London.”
Q. What’s the goal for Rio 2016?
“All athletes, myself included, are facing the most important tournament this year. We will prepare strongly and hope to accomplish all the goals for Korea.”
Q. What’s your strategy for the Olympics?
“The rules have changed this time round and there is an introduction of sets in the group competitions.
So, we need to focus on finishing matches in the fastest time possible. There is also the possibility of further rule changes after Rio, so it might be the last chance to achieve our goal.”
Q. What’s your personal goal for Rio?
“Well, the end of my professional career is always on the back of my mind, and perhaps I would like to end it sooner rather than later.Whatever I decide, I would like to save the best possible result till the end.”
Q. Can you give everyone a message for the New Year and your resolution for the Olympics?
“Hello, I’m Oh Jin-Hyuk , a professional archer. It is the year for the Rio Olympics 2016. This summer, the national team including myself will compete to the highest standard and we look forward to your support!”
On New Year’s Day, the KAA reported that they had sent the entire recurve squad hiking up Mount Bulam-san in northeastern Seoul, before dawn, accompanied by the training staff. The slightly breathless journalist who accompanied this onerous publicity stunt said:
“Our National Archery Team started off the new year with a hike up Mount Bulam-san a symbol of their resolution and dedication as the world’s best. Reporter Jung Chan Lee accompanied them…. At the dawn of 2015, the archery team were the first ones up and about in the Taerung (the Korean National Training Center). After layering up for the cold (-12ºC /10ºF) at 5:30 AM, they started out in a strong gait towards Mount Bulam-san, shouting “Fighting!”.
After an hour of hiking passed, sweat drops began to form on their faces despite the frigid winds that slapped against them. “The water’s frozen,” they exclaimed.
Soon, the sky begins to light up, as does the countenances of the archery team. They have finally reached the top.
But the happiness was not to last for long as they quickly realized that there was no place to hide from the freezing winds at the top of the mountain. Such is their current stature in archery: fierce winds of rivalry storm towards them, as is the fate of those at the top of the world rankings.
Oh Jin-Hyuk said: “It is difficult to advance further when you stand at the top, but I believe that everything will turn out for the best.”
Chang Hye Jin said: “With your support and love, we will strive to defend our title as the world’s best.”
The National Team declared their year’s resolution, as they enter the world championships to compete for entry to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, in one voice: “ARCHERY IS FUN!”
They say that those who enjoy what they do can’t be beat; the national archery team resolved to the first sunrise with a joyful heart that they will protect their position at the top.”
(via Chosun TV). Thanks to Grace Kim for translation. Watch it here:
I went to the North Korean embassy in London to see an art exhibition.
Fourteen words I never thought I’d type, there. I’ve been fascinated by the DPRK for a while, amazed that such a place could even exist in the 21st century; a time-travelling state notable for total autocracy, almost comical diplomatic belligerence, and the cult of personality around its plump leader. At one point I was actually considering going there for a stage-managed holiday, where you are carefully shown the glories of the empire, and nothing else. I changed my mind after I started reading about the truly appalling human rights record and found out that the money from such a (very expensive) holiday would be directly supporting the regime – although there remains an argument that visiting Westerners will continue the process of gradually opening up the country, and such visits are ultimately going to be necessary in order to speed any reunification.
But when I read about a free art exhibition of DPRK artists at their London embassy this morning, I decided I had to go. North Korea’s UK outpost isn’t anything like most embassies in London, which tend to be 18th and 19th century marble piles in upmarket central districts. It’s a seven bedroom, semi-detached house in the drab suburb of Acton Town, a long way out west near Ealing.
Apart from the DPRK flag up a pole and the black Merc with the ‘PRK 1’ plate, it looks exactly like every other house round here, down to the double glazing. Axis Of Evil? More like the banality of evil.
I get there as it opens, with just a small handful of curious visitors after a mobbed press launch yesterday. A handful of polite gentlemen in black suits usher me in and eye me suspiciously.
The exhibition is limited to just two rooms on the ground floor, decorated in ornate, moneyed 1980s style: cream paint, black piano-finish cabinetry, crystal light fittings. The portraits of a smiling Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il beam on us all. The British curator and instigator of the exhibition, David Heather, is already there and explaining away. Yesterday he told the Guardian:
… he had proposed the idea of an exhibition to North Korean officials in August, and was surprised at how quickly his suggestion had become a reality.
Asked about criticisms that the exhibition would bolster the North Korean government, which has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, Heather replied that that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”… He said he hoped the art would “transcend politics” and build positive relationships between residents of the two countries, and said he is even hoping to launch a competition for British artists to visit North Korea as part of an exchange programme next year.
The artwork on display is all state-approved, a group show of comrades from the Mansudae studio in Pyongyang, the state entity responsible for the majority of the DPRK’s art needs, from scenic oils to socialist murals. It ranges from traditional Korean ‘one-brushstroke’ watercolours on cloth:
…with the artist himself explaining the laborious process which has no margin for error – apparently four paintings are thrown away for every one that makes it to a wall.
Choe Gyong Mi makes oils which strongly remind me of Thomas Kinkade, the vastly successful American artist whose idealistic, cutesy kitsch is designed to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings of “everything’s alright at home”. Little wonder she was selected to represent her country overseas.
There are London street scenes too, which seem to have been painted from photographs, as well as some better woodcuts, a near-photo-realistic work or two and a variety of impressionistic fashions. A lot of it shows reasonable technical skill, albeit in a severely limited range of styles.
The overall impression is cheery, organised and resolute, with very little aesthetic range. The artists themselves have even had a say, although they naturally have perfected the art of saying nothing at all.
Of course, I’m not really here for the art, and I suspect not that many of the visitors over the five days this exhibition is open are either. I’m here to stand on what is (almost) North Korean soil, and gawp. The real attraction on display is the embassy being open at all; the Hermit Kingdom briefly, cautiously pulling back the curtain for a handful of nosy Londoners. David Heather is unfortunately wrong. When the art is merely product, carefully filtered and selected to express the values of a state; it’s all about the politics. The quality of the (perfectly charming) art is unfortunately irrelevant – the real show is nevertheless, right here. Incidentally, Britain appears to be more welcoming than most Western states to engage with the North.
So finally, and briefly, back to archery. Shortly before this year’s Incheon Asian Games, there was a plan for the DPRK’s archers to train with their Southern counterparts. Kim Jong-Un had taken a particular interest in the team and apparently ordered the sport’s officials to develop new equipment. You fear slightly for the squad though, with the Great Successor taking an interest in their progress – particularly as they failed to bring home a medal this year. Unfortunately, something snapped along the line and the project never happened, although the KAA apparently remains open to the idea happening again; in an atmosphere where a North v South Korea football match at the Asian Games saw the home crowd chanting “we are one” at all players on the pitch.
Art in the West, Olympic sports in the East. These carefully managed opportunities still seem like tiny nuggets of gestural politics, and it is possible they are nothing more than that. But if reunification does happen, and I think it may happen in my lifetime, it is going to involve many, many crossings of the border like this in all fields of life, all around the world. If peaceful reunification is eventually going to come to pass, as the DPRK claims to intend, then I suppose you have to start somewhere. There might be a lot of seedlings needed, but eventually you hope that mighty oaks might grow.
At the recent Asian Games, Korean archers and coaches collectively received nearly 880 million won (over £500,000 / $800,000) in bonuses from their sponsor Hyundai for the five golds, three silvers and one bronze medal they took home from Incheon.
The going rate for a gold medal is 70 million won (about £41,000 / $65,000), with 60 million won for a silver and 50 for a bronze. Not bad, and apparently more than the government bonus for Olympic gold medals in 2012 – although in Korea that also gets you a monthly stipend for life. Hyundai handed out similar bonuses to the medallists after London, and indeed Korea’s big corporations step in with cash for all kinds of Olympic sports, and become fairy godfathers to many types of athletes.
Many nations dole out cash for Olympic success. The top payer is Singapore, who sent just 26 athletes to London, offering $800,000 dollars to any of their sportsmen who take home a gold medal (although in 2012, this prize went unclaimed). The ‘table’ looks like this:
(Yes, that’s right. Unlike almost every country in the world, Britain pays nothing at all for Olympic achievement.)
As for Korea, I am increasingly convinced that the main reason that that nation dominates the sport isn’t the training regime, or the talent identification system, or the professional leagues – it’s the money. In the case of the KAA, something like half the operating budget ultimately comes from Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia Motors. The historical reason for this is that in the early 1980s the authoritarian government leaned on their big corporations to fund Olympic sports – specifically, less popular sports – by giving them tax breaks to do so. This involved Hyundai actually taking over the NGB – thus began the Korean archery machine.
The governments changed, but over time the corporations came to see funding Olympic sports as both an excellent overseas marketing opportunity and a useful, very public exercise in social responsibility. The success of Korean archery and the success of Hyundai/Kia reflect each other; a win-win situation. The KAA and its powerful sponsor remain deeply entwined today, as was seen in Incheon when its formidable patron and chairman Chung Eui-Sun – vice-chairman of Hyundai – took the extraordinary step of rebuilding sections of the archery field after complaints were raised by the attending media. The immense amount of corporate funding allows for a deep pool of dozens of professional athletes to develop to their fullest potential, rather than the two or three per generation in every other country. That’s the real ‘secret’.
So, how can any other nation compete with that? I still think archery in the UK could attract sponsorship money, because it is invariably intriguing and dramatic to laymen – it’s saleable, and it’s hot right now (certainly compared to many other sports). The entry barriers are lower; partly because it needs much less ‘explaining’ than some other sports. World Archery has managed to pull in long-term deals from a wide variety of international brands with very different markets and brand values.
Of course, the Korean national team is the only archery squad in the world with that kind of cash ‘carrot’ at the end of a non-Olympic competition, and indeed, that kind of patronage, but it is ultimately indicative of a culture. South East Asia highly values its Olympic sportsmen and women and sees international achievement as a deep source of national pride, and its oligarchical system rewards that accordingly (it should be noted that the Asian Games is played out against a daunting backdrop of fierce historical rivalries). In the UK, unless you play cricket or football you receive little more than a pat on the back and a ‘jolly good show’ from the establishment.
The cult of the amateur is over. Unfortunately, international success in sport needs money, spent professionally and ruthlessly.
After a tournament which briefly looked like it was veering dangerously away from the script followed by previous Asiads, the recurve finals finally delivered the hoped-for ‘Golden Sunday’ for the home nation.
After the shock semi-final defeat for the Korean men’s team on Friday – the first at an Asian Games for over thirty years – they had to suffer the relative indignity of fighting it out with Japan for the bronze medal, which they won 5 sets to 3. Japan came back in the third end to tie the score, but sent down two eights in the final end to hand the Korean men the bronze and a sliver of self-esteem.
The gold medal match was contested between China and Malaysia, who had unexpectedly beaten Japan to book their place here. It was a one-sided affair that saw the Chinese men comprehensively outscore their opponents to take gold.
“We hadn’t expected that we could win so fast,” said Yong Zhiwei. “But we believed in ourselves. We had faith in the team. Mu Yong, the manager of the Chinese archery team, said: “They showed no fear at all.”
In the women’s team event, Japan beat India for the bronze medal, capping a miserable week for India’s recurves who left the competition empty-handed after their compound teammates grabbed four medals yesterday and sent India into the overall top ten.
In the gold match, the pressure was weighing heavy on the Korean ladies to beat China – particularly after their last two finals ended in defeat, and the Chinese team had beaten them in competition as recently as June. In the end, they needn’t have worried. After three tense sets that saw the Chinese archers’ form fall away – they hit the ten ring just twice – the crowd roared and Korea had their precious recurve gold, with an emotional team bursting into tears afterwards. Lee Tuk-Young said afterwards: “There’s been some incredibly hard work over the last ten months, but I’m really glad to be part of history.” She also credited ‘elder sister’ Joo Hyun-Jung, who was unable to take part in the team event due to injury, as part of the team’s success “because our hearts beat as one”, in an elegant illustration of the particularly deep emotional bond between KAA teams.
The individual competition brought another Chinese medal, as Xu Jing took the bronze medal match from Japan’s Ren Hayakawa 7-3 after being 3-1 down after two ends. In the men’s bronze match, Kuo Cheng Wei of Chinese Taipei beat Hideki Kikuchi 6-2 to finish a relatively disappointing meet for Japan’s highly consistent recurvers, who would definitely have hoped for more. Japan, along with China, were also the only major archery nations not to send a compound squad.
The women’s individual field inevitably came down to the two Koreans in-form this year, and Jung Dasomi thumped Chang Hye-Jin 7-1 in a gold medal match that saw her miss the middle just twice in twelve arrows. She finished the job with a 10-10-10 end.
The men’s gold match saw the familiar hulking frame of Oh Jin-Hyek, the Olympic champion, take on the young Chinese athlete – and apparently, ‘ladies man‘ – Yong Zhiwei, who had already won a gold medal that morning in the team event. The crowd went silent as Yong raced out to a 4-0 lead, before his form slipped and Oh reeled off three straight sets to take the title, looking relieved after a final end that saw both archers wobble. Reading from the standard Korean sporting script, he said afterwards: “I concentrated on my last shot, but I scored eight. I was fortunate to win a gold medal and I will continue to do well.”
In the end, there weren’t a great many surprises. Most of the medals went to the usual powerhouse nations, with some strong runs from Malaysia and the Philippines – plus a special mention to the quarter-final performance of men’s recurver Pak Yong-Won of the DPRK. The athletes delivered. For the home nation, the KAA pressure cooker had done its job and delivered the expected medals in their most important tournament apart from the Olympics. It remains to be seen if the KAA will continue to develop and maintain a high-level compound squad, and if the men’s performances will match the women’s in either discipline. The Asian nations have proved spectacularly strong on the international archery circuit this year, and on this outing, that looks set to continue for a long time to come.
INCHEON, Korea: The Indian squad had an extraordinary day in windy conditions on the Gyegang field, as the men’s compound team capped a highly successful day for India by clinching a historic gold medal, beating favourites Korea 227-225. Rajat Chauhan, Sandeep Kumar and Abhishek Verma shot consistently in the middle from the second arrow on, in a closely-fought contest that saw the hosts’ second shooter Min Li-Hong send down a 7 in the 4th end to sink the Korean boat. Afterwards, Chauhan said: “We have been noticing India’s position on the medals table every day and were determined to win the gold today. We are delighted to have done it.”
The team’s extensive preparation for the Asiad appears to have paid off, according to coach Rajan Singh: “We went to Salt Lake City in the USA and trained with Dee Wilde (father of Reo) for 15 days. Then we came and trained in Korea in different weather conditions at Gwangju here for a month before reaching here for the Games.” said Singh, a former junior national champion. Abhishek Verma said: “I knew how to perform under pressure… We are all delighted to win the gold. We were not overawed by our opponents.” Iran beat the Phillippines for the bronze medal.
In the women’s team contest, strong favourites Korea finally took a gold medal, beating Chinese Taipei 229-226. The women’s team had already broken the world record for a team 24-arrow match earlier in the week, and didn’t miss the gold once. India easily beat Iran for the bronze. Afterwards, Choi Bomin pointed to the sky to dedicate the victory to former KAA youth coach Shin Hyeon-Jong who had recently passed away.
In the women’s individual compound, India’s Trisha Deb couldn’t keep her strong run going against Seok Ji-Hyun, but lucked out to beat Huang I Jou in the bronze medal match. Deb was trailing from the first end, but the Chinese Taipei athlete unexpectedly missed with her penultimate arrow in the last end to hand her victory. The gold medal match was contested between Koreans Seok Ji-Hyun and Choi Bomin, turning into a dramatic contest which saw the lead swinging back and forth with Choi shooting the last end clean to win by just a single point, 144-143.
The men’s contest saw some less familiar names in an international archery final without the usual European and American stars. Iran has long been strong in compound archery and Esmaeil Ebadi took the lead from the second end to beat India’s Abhishek Verma 145-141 in both athletes’ second appearances of the day. The match was a re-run of the first Asian Grand Prix final from this year, also won by Ebadi. The bronze medal went to Paul Marton De La Cruz of the Phillippines.
Two gold medals for Korea means that the women’s recurve team and Oh Jin-Hyek will both have to take gold tomorrow in order for the host nation to meet its stated target of “four to six” golds from the eight available. But today belonged to a superb Indian squad with a well deserved gold, silver and two bronze medals from the first compound programme at these Games.
The competition continues with the recurve finals tomorrow.
INCHEON, Korea. Recurve eliminations day on a rain-soaked Gyegang Asiad Archery Field, and the host nation was shocked by the defeat of the mighty Korean men’s team, beaten by the Chinese by 5 set points to 4 in the semi-final. In windier conditions than previous days, the match went to a shoot-off, where the teams tied on 29 points but the Chinese won by being closest to the centre.
The Korean men have won every Asian Games team gold for the last eight editions of the Games going all the way back to 1982; now they must fight it out for bronze with Japan on Sunday, who unexpectedly lost their semi-final 5-1 to a resurgent Malaysia. Afterwards, Oh Jin-Hyek described the tournament as “harder than the Olympics”.
The KAA was quick to defend the team. The Korean women’s national team coach, Ryu Su-Jeong said: “Korean archery is still winning, but is becoming more difficult.” Joo Hyun-Jung added, “Gold isn’t something to be taken for granted.” It appears that making the national team might be becoming something of a poisoned chalice; with the staggering achievements of the past and the sky-high expectations making any falls from grace that much harder.
In the women’s team event, Korea cruised through to the gold medal match, despite Joo Hyun-Jung having to pull out of the squad with a rotator cuff injury and being replaced by Lee Tuk-Young. They beat Kazakhstan before crushing India in the semifinal, and will face China in the final on Saturday. Despite the usual dominant display, the pressure is firmly on, as the Korean ladies have lost two finals in a row – to Japan in the Asian Grand Prix and to the same Chinese team at the World Cup in Antalya in June this year. A disappointed India will face Japan for the bronze.
There was slightly better news for the Koreans in the individual finals, although Lee Seungyun unexpectedly fell to Yong Zhiwei of China in the quarter-finals by a single point. Most matches went to form, setting up some intriguing clashes for Sunday. In the recurve men, Kuo Cheng Wei of Chinese Taipei will face Oh Jin-Hyek of Korea, with Yong Zhiwei of China facing Hideki Kukuchi of Japan in the other semi. In the recurve women, Jung Dasomi of Korea will face Ren Hayakawa of Japan, while Xu Jing of China will face Chang Hye-Jin.
Deepika Kumari was thrashed in her quarterfinal by Diananda Choirunisa of Indonesia, to face the wrath of the Indian media after a low-key performance for the Indian recurve team.
The competition continues with the compound finals tomorrow.
INCHEON, Korea: The compound team and individual eliminations were completed today, in the debut outing of the discipline at the 17th Asian Games. The women’s team of Seok Ji-Hyun, Choi Bomin and Kim Yun-Jee scored 238 points out of a possible 240 in the team’s quarter-final victory over Laos to break the world record of 236 points set by the USA team in 2011.
They then eased past Iran 229-222 in the semifinals and will shoot against Chinese Taipei for the gold medal this Saturday, with Iran and India contesting the bronze.
In the men’s team competition, India will face off against Korea in the gold medal match. Korea only just squeezed past the Phillippines in the semi-final, who will face Iran for the bronze. Afterwards, Choi Yong Hee said: “I’m glad to be inthe final, butwe haven’t won it yet. You have to do your bestwithout losingconcentrationtill the end if you want towin the gold.”
The strong performances from the Indian squad continued as Abhishek Verma upset favourite Choi Yong Hee of Korea 147-142 in the individual quarter-final, shooting 12 10s in the process. Trisha Deb will also contest the individual semi-finals on Saturday.
Elsewhere, there was disappointment for the Iraqi squad as big medal hope and World Cup silver medallist Fatimah Almashhadani went out to Sri Ranti of Indonesia in the 1/16 eliminations. Her sister Rand is shooting in the recurve eliminations tomorrow.
I wrote earlier this year pondering if the Korean team intended to dominate compound archery as they do recurve archery, and it seems to be coming to pass. Korea took all recurve golds available in the last two Asian Games, and have stated they hope to win between four to six golds here from the eight available in recurve and compound. Senior coach Jang Yung-Sool said, in typical Korean style, “All our archers are in good form, but I have advised the athletes to avoid excessive excitement because there are more events to prepare for.”
Full results can be found here. The shoot continues with the recurve team and individual eliminations tomorrow.
Brief YouTube news piece about the world record here.
Early-doors picture of the Gyeyang Asiad Archery Field via Fivics Korea:
INCHEON, Korea: The Asian Games recurve ranking rounds were completed today. Both men and women shot a two-day full FITA round to decide the ranking – a decision of the KAA which contrasts with the now normal 70m ranking round in World Archery sanctioned international competition.
The full results are here. No particular surprises as to who came top – the Korean men’s team qualified one-two-three-four with Lee Suengyun taking top honours with 1377. Oh Jin-Hyuk and Ku Bonchan were tied for second place with 1362 points, but the Olympic champion advanced on total tens scored (although he shot less X’s). This means that Oh and Lee will contest the individual competition, as the rules only allow for two per country per gender; all three will contest the team competition. Kim Woojin shot 1353, good enough for fourth place but not good enough to make either the team or the individual knockout stage.
In the women’s competition, a Korean one-two-three means Jung Dasomi and Chang Hye-Jin will advance to the individual competition with scores of 1364 and 1359. It appears they will be joined in the team event by “elder sister” Joo Hyun-Yung, who only qualified 13th but squeezes Lee Tuk-Young out of the team event on previous results under the complicated KAA rules. Jung Dasomi was sanguine about the system in place, which sees at least one team member squeezed out for good. “The individual result doesn’t matter. Whoever goes out there to fight (as the team), we will give it everything.”
The main challengers to the Koreans for medals here are China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and India, who all recorded top ten placings. Indian superstar Deepika Kumari placed a strong 8th, but the rest of the Indian women’s recurve team floundered and the team only managed fifth place. Top Malaysian pro and World Cup medallist Khairul Anuar Mohamad managed a strong sixth place in the men’s competition.
The compound individual and team eliminations start tomorrow, just after midnight here in Europe. There have already been controversies over the venue, but now there are further fears about the weather disrupting the competition, with Typhoon Fung-Wong battering parts of the east Asian coast and currently approaching south Korea. According to the organisers, the competition will go ahead unless “the target cannot be seen or the target is knocked over by wind and rain.” [waahh! – Ed] Although Chang Hye-Jin was noticably bullish about the situation after the ranking round: “I hope the wind blows harder tomorrow.” she said.
And there’s more. The Japanese ladies recurve team administered a thrashing to the mighty Korea in the team finals at the Asian Grand Prix, the last big tournament before the Asian Games. Japan have been producing strong results for some years now but it’s a great lesson in confidence – for both teams. Watch and enjoy: