RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Being an archer in South Korea, pressure just inherently comes with the territory.
Defending Olympic champion Ki Bo-bae certainly felt that weight. Same with top-seeded Choi Mi-sun, who went out earlier than expected.
Good thing teammate Chang Hye-jin was impervious to the effects of tension as she kept the South Korean archery dynasty chugging along.
Chang won the Olympic gold medal in the women’s individual event Thursday by holding off surprise finalist Lisa Unruh of Germany. Chang was the pillar of consistency on a windy day at the Sambadrome, winning the final match 6-2 over Unruh.
Ki, the 2012 London Olympic winner, earned bronze after stumbling against Chang in the semifinals.
With a big assist from Chang, the archery powerhouse nation took home gold in the event for the eighth time in nine Olympics.
Gold is the expectation. That’s a lot of anxiety.
“We were under such a great pressure,” said Ki, who beat Alejandra Valencia of Mexico 6-4 in the bronze-medal match. “I’m very grateful to my friend (Chang), because she fulfilled the responsibility and she won the gold medal for our team.”
Four years ago, Chang was watching the Olympics from back home after finishing fourth during her nation’s selection process.
This time, she secured the third and final spot. But she was hardly the South Korean everyone expected to win.
That would be Ki. Or even Choi.
Chang just went about her business of shooting well enough to advance. And when she met Ki in the semifinals, she pictured her as just some random archer — not a teammate or a good friend.
Only after knocking off Ki did she fully realize what she had just accomplished.
“I felt a lot of responsibility,” Chang said. “I should do my best to win this in the final.”
She did, too. Despite the constantly swirling wind, she found a way to unseat Unruh, who was the 21st-seeded archer and needed a winner-take-all extra arrow to even make it out of the quarterfinals.
“I can’t believe I’m an Olympic medalist,” Unruh said. “I’m so happy now I can’t speak.”
Choi was upset in the quarterfinals by Valencia, 6-0. Choi’s nerves betrayed her as she misfired on her first arrow and scored a five — an uncharacteristic mistake for the top-ranked archer in the world. She never quite recovered.
“That’s why I lose confidence and I got the results in the end,” Choi explained. “I couldn’t focus on myself today.”
It’s been a fruitful Olympic showing for the South Koreans at the Sambadrome. Chang, Ki and Choi also lifted South Korea to a team title Sunday. The men won a team crown as well.
Next up, the men’s competition Friday to close things out. Although top-seeded Kim Woo-jin was knocked out in the second round, Ku Bonchan and Lee Seungyun are still in the field and have a shot to make it a clean gold-medal sweep for the South Koreans.
The country already has 22 all-time Olympic gold medals in archery, which is one more than short-track speedskating for the label of most successful South Korean sport at the games.
“Any one of us has to win the gold medal,” Ki said. “It’s kind of a competition among Korean archers.”