Archers win with arrows, and heads

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Archers win with arrows, and heads


GUANGZHOU, China - When Chinese archer Dai Xiaoxiang shot a six with his team’s second-to-last arrow in the final of the men’s team event against Korea on Monday, gasps could be heard around the Aoti Archery Range - those of shock, disbelief and sympathy for an athlete who almost single-handedly ruined his country’s chances at a gold medal. Korea ended up winning by four points.

It wasn’t the only Chinese slip against Korea in archery at these Asian Games. Last Sunday, during the second shoot-off in the women’s team final, Korea’s Joo Hyun-jung, Ki Bo-bae and Yun Ok-hee all shot perfect 10s. China’s first archer, Cheng Ming, matched with a 10 of her own, but the next one, Zhang Yunlu, shot only a 7 to hand the gold medal to Korea.

Some might say the Koreans got lucky and China gift-wrapped gold medals on both occasions. Experts said an archer good enough to make the finals isn’t prone to shooting a 7, let alone a 6.

But experts also said the Korean archers deserve credit for putting pressure on their opponents, causing the other teams to make mistakes, while not committing any themselves. What’s between the ears is what separates Korea from others in archery, despite the notable emergence of other countries.

Kim Soo-nyung, a former Olympic gold-medal-winning archer, said the Korean men put themselves in a position to win gold and their superior skills forced the Chinese to rush their shots.

“I could see that psychologically and physically, the Chinese archers were too rattled near the end,” said Kim after the men’s team final.

She was in Guangzhou to provide commentary for a Korean television network.

“The Chinese didn’t hand it to us. We beat them with our skills because we didn’t make mistakes and they did.”

Kim said no one wishes bad fortune on rivals and that the best Koreans can do is shoot as good as they can and wait for others to make mistakes.

And this is when mistakes come into play.

In team events, shooting order is determined by scores from previous rounds. Since Koreans almost always record top scores in earlier rounds, they get to choose whether to shoot first or second.

Kim Seong-hoon, head coach of the men’s team here, said his side likes to shoot first and “watch others go off the mark.”

“We ... put up good scores, and let the other guys see our points,” Kim said. “Our best defense is our best offense, so to speak.”

The knowledge that the other archer will eventually miss the target can be a powerful source of confidence. Women’s head coach Cho Eun-sin said that even though her team was down by three points to China with six arrows left, she “never once thought we were going to lose.”

Kim Woo-jin, an 18-year-old archer who won the individual title on Wednesday after leading his team to gold earlier, said he even “expected” China to make a mistake during their final duel.

Their beliefs were validated by the numbers. Leading 168-165 with six arrows to go in the women’s final, China put up three 8s, while the Koreans shot two 10s to force a shoot-off. In the men’s final, Korea trailed 169-168 with six shots left. Korea nailed three 10s and China faltered with two 8s and Dai’s infamous 6.

Self-assurance for Korean archers has likely been built up over decades of the country’s dominance on the world stage.

Kim Woo-jin and female archer Ki Bo-bae, 22, grew up watching Kim Soo-nyung and others turn the Olympics and Asian Games into Korean national championships.

It also helps young archers competing at big events for the first time that the Korean national team trials are often more difficult and stressful because of the depth of the talent pool.Korean archers also go to the extreme to bolster their mental toughness.

Before these Asian Games, they practiced at a packed baseball stadium amid deafening crowd noise, after their predecessors at the Beijing Olympics struggled over the din of unruly fans. Such crowd behavior was banned in Guangzhou.

And to harden the young archers, coaches sent them to stand guard at night at the Demilitarized Zone next to South Korean soldiers.

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