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HomeAsian GamesGwangju: The bow and arrow cradle of South Korea’s dominance in archery

Gwangju: The bow and arrow cradle of South Korea’s dominance in archery

Back in 1984, when 17-year-old Seo Hyang-Soon became Korea’s first individual archery gold medallist at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, little did she know she would be starting a revolution of sorts at her home city of Gwangju. The city in the southwest part of South Korea led the nation in pro-democracy protests in the 1980s, and it remained in the forefront of a sporting rising too.

To honour her achievement, the city decided to set up a Seo Hyang-Soon Centre for archery, where young children could come and try their hand at the sport. It created such a buzz in the city that most youngsters tried their hand at it, and very soon, it catapulted into a proper competition structure.

Students begin training and competing in elementary, middle and then high school teams, before moving to a university squad and, if they were good enough, a professional team would sign them up.

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Over the years, the city has become a stronghold for not just archery in Korea but in the world too. The list of Olympic medallists who are from or have trained in Gwangju is impressive. Apart from Hyang-Soon’s achievement, Jang Yong-Ho medalled at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 (team events), former World No. 1 Joo Hyun Jung won gold at Beijing 2008 (team), Ki Bo Bae won individual gold at London 2012 and bronze at Rio 2016, Choi Misun won gold at Rio 2016 (team), before An San won three gold (individual, team and mixed team at the Tokyo Games).

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While the Hyang-Soon Centre got the arrows flying, it’s the state-of-the-art Gwangju International Archery Centre that has carried the legacy forward. Built as a legacy facility for the 2015 Universiade held in Gwangju, the centre will host the World Archery Championships in 2025 after beating the Spanish capital Madrid for the hosting rights.

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The centre, however, isn’t just used for Korean archers. Chinese and French archers too attend camps there as do quite a few professional teams. While the professionals get their intense training, what’s really unique about the facility is that amateurs can walk in and try their hand at archery. It has helped create the notion that the sport is just about for anyone.

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Not everyone makes it as a professional though. But the beauty of it is that the city has advanced coaching programs that help those archers remain within the sport. More importantly, it has seen the number of coaches just multiply within the city. Having good coaches all around to help youngsters develop proper technique from a very young age is imperative to dominating on the world stage, something that Gwangju has excelled in.

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