RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Carrying a country’s expectations and an Olympic legacy of astonishing over-achievement, South Korea’s archers were hardly going to let the wind at the Sambadrome blow their chances of an eighth successive women’s team title at the Rio Games.
Wind can be kryptonite to the best of archers, with the merest breath sending a cleanly shot arrow wide of the target.
It raises doubts and can sap confidence to terminal levels. At times on Sunday it was blowing hard. Other times, soft.
But it was ever-present, causing many of the world’s most accomplished women to wince in dismay as their arrows refused to land as directed.
It knocked Russia’s strongly built Ksenia Perova off course during the gold medal-decider, her first arrow fading into the outer ring for a score of six, a virtual embarrassment for an Olympic competitor.
But South Korea’s Ki Bo-bae, Chang Hye-jin and Choi Mi-sun seemed to possess a mystical power to move the wind in their direction.
Five of their first six arrows in the opening set struck the innermost gold circle for maximum scores of 10 points.
It was a devastating opening volley which Perova, Tuiana Dashidorzhieva and Inna Stepanova had little hope of responding to.
They lost the first of the best-of-four sets by a stinging 10 points and minutes later surrendered the second as Ki, the defending champion in the individual event, refused to miss the gold.
She finally did in the third set but her imperfect eight on the final arrow was enough to seal a dominant 5-1 victory and let 50 million Koreans sleep safely, knowing that their women’s unbeaten streak in the Olympics remains alive.
South Korea won their eighth team title in succession, 28 years after winning the first at their home Games in Seoul.
Punishing training regimes and practicing at baseball stadiums to get used to the noise of an Olympic crowd are the way of South Korean archery, which has professional teams and enviable corporate sponsorship.
Yet, in a meandering, multilingual media conference, Ki and her team mates were peppered with questions about the “secret” of their success.
A reporter asked the truth of a report that they had handled snakes to build mental toughness and overcome fears.
“We tried to get accustomed to noise and also sometimes we have training competitions in very unusual settings, but we don’t handle snakes,” said Ki with a smile.
Hard graft and the unflinching support of a well-resourced program were the more plausible factors in their success, the Koreans all said in different ways.
“It is true that before coming to Rio there was so much expectation from so many people for the eighth consecutive gold medal. The pressure felt even bigger because of that,” added Ki.
“So we thought that it could be difficult for us but we just continued working together and having very strong team work and it proved to be right.”
Editing by Bill Rigby