Tough to beat Korean women

NEVER in the history of sport in the country, have Indian archers raised visions of a medal in the Olympics.

s. SABANAYAKAN

Kim Soo Nyung and Yun Mi Jin celebrate after winning the team event in the Sydney Olympics. Yun Mi Jin, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Kim Soo Nyung, is the second archer in history to hold all four major titles — the Olympic and World team and individual titles. At Athens, the 21-year-old will get a chance to repeat her compatriot's record of winning four gold medals. — Pic. AP-

NEVER in the history of sport in the country, have Indian archers raised visions of a medal in the Olympics. When the six Indians face the targets at the Panathinaiko Stadium in Greece on August 12, a day ahead of the scheduled Opening Ceremony, they will be carrying newfound hopes of a nation trying to make a mark in one of the ancient sports in the world.

In a highly technologically advanced sport like archery, precision shooting has given way to fun. A top archer has been transformed into a robot with human touch. Steel like nerve, unerring focus and self-belief give an archer the edge to excel against all odds.

Since winning the full quota of six berths from the 42nd world outdoor target archery championship held last July in New York, the Indians have been scaling new heights in their quest for a medal in the quadrennial Games. Yet, the touch of class has been missing in the subsequent championships the six took part to give any major boost to India's aspirations of a medal from this sport.

Nowhere near the best

The men's team is yet to touch the fourth place standing achieved at the worlds in New York and individually, the three, Satyadev Prasad, Tarundeep Rai and Majhi Sawaiyan, are nowhere near the best performance subsequently achieved by the top-notch archers from other countries. Korea, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Chinese Taipei and Ukraine are expected to prove a stiff competition to India.

Marked improvement

Simon Fairweather of Australia, the individual champion in the Sydney Games. Fairweather, 34, will be participating in his fifth Olympics. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

There has been a marked improvement in the overall showing of the women's team. After it was ranked sixth in New York, the team twice missed the third place in two major Grand Prix meets in Europe by two points. The present team, comprising Dola Banerjee, Reena Kumari and Sumangla Sharma, will have to conquer Korea, China, France, Poland, Great Britain, Japan and Ukraine to be at the busy end.

India's newly acquired tag of a `dark horse' going into the Olympics has a silverlining. The six Indian archers, good as a team, will have no pressure while taking on better teams.

The two teams will be in a win-win situation provided the Indians managed to keep their nerves under control. Individually, the Indians are not the best in the world. But in a sport where luck plays a major part, the chances of one or two Indians getting into the medal bracket cannot be ruled out.

Top team

South Korean is the world's best in this sport. Its women have an outstanding record in the Olympics. The South Korean women have won an Olympic gold medal in every event they ever contested since Korea began to compete in archery at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. They have won nine gold medals so far and more are in the offing.

Four gold medals, a silver and a bronze from three Olympics (1988, 1992 and 2000) make Kim Soo Nyung the greatest Korean women archer. Yun Mi Jin, like her predecessor, Kim, is the second archer in the history to hold all four major titles, the Olympic and World team and individual titles. The 21-year-old will get a chance to repeat her compatriot's record of winning four gold medals at Athens where she will aim to win the team and individual honours to embellish the two she won at Sydney. She is expected to get the support from Park Sung Hyun, the 21-year-old World champion in 2001 and the runner-up to Yun in New York and Lee Sung Jin, a 19-year-old newcomer.

The same cannot be said about the Korean men. Going into the Athens Games as World and Olympic team champions, the three Korean archers will be looking forward to win the first Olympic individual medal, which so far eluded them. The Koreans are likely to pin their hopes on 2003 World individual runner-up Im Dong Yung. The 18-year-old won the Olympic Test event at the Olympic venue last August and is definitely one of the favourites. Korea is expected to plumb for two experienced campaigners in Park Kyung Mo, the 28-year-old 1993 individual world champion and Jang Yong Ho, a member of the Korea's gold medal winning team in Sydney. The 28-year-old along with Park figured prominently in the 2003 World champion team as well.

Interestingly, no Olympic individual champion in either section could successfully defend the title. Simon Fairweather of Australia and Yun, the Sydney individual champions, will try and break the jinx at Athens.

A veteran

Fairweather, 34, will be participating in his fifth Olympics. The gold medal success prompted him to call it a day but he returned to competition in the later part of 2003 and has not done well in most of the competitions he participated in. Yet, the veteran is expected to spearhead Australia with the support of two outstanding teenagers, David Barnes, the 2003 worlds bronze medallist and Tim Cuddihy, current world junior champion and former world cadet champion.

Among the most prominent archers competing at the Olympics, Michele Frangilli, will be the most colourful one. The 28-year-old Italian has won a major title each year since he won the World indoors in 2001. He won the World field in 2002 and the World outdoors in New York last year. After a number of reverses since he won the Worlds, Frangilli has won the individual title at the Golden Arrow Grand Prix in Turkey, the last of the three European GPs.

The success rate of the United States, especially, in the men's side, has been very strong since the sport returned to the Games in 1972. The American men have won five of the eight individual gold medals. Darrell Pace, the only two-time gold medallist in 1976 and 1984, is an American. Vic Wunderle, 2000 Games' silver medallist, along with Richard Johnson will be the ones to watch from the U. S.

Wietse van Alten of the Netherlands, Chen Wenyuan and Xue Haifeng (both China) are some of the men to watch out. Among the women, Alison Williamson of Great Britain, Kateryna Palekha of Ukraine, He Ying of China, Wu Hui Ju of Chinese-Taipei apart from the three Koreans are some of the prominent ones expected to do well.