No time to rest

Seo Hyang-soon, 1984 Olympic archery champion

1984 Olympic champ has mixed feelings at archery gold medalists

At the moment she watched a team of South Korean women archers score a seventh successive Olympic victory in London on Sunday, Seo Hyang-soon was overwhelmed with joy like any other Korean.

On the other hand, the country’s first female Olympic archery gold medalist, who had laid the foundation for this seventh straight triumph, felt sorry for them as well.

The women’s archery team event was introduced in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, following the Los Angeles Games where she captured the first-ever archery gold for South Korea. The country has defended its Olympic title in the event ever since then.

“To think of an enormous pressure to strike Olympic gold and the nerves and worries they had to overcome when they pull a string, I felt pity for them,” Seo said in an interview with The Korea Herald Business, a Korean-language unit of The Korea Herald in Los Angeles. 

It was 28 years ago when she represented Korea as a 17-year-old high-school girl in the Los Angeles Olympics, her debut in a major international sporting event. She outscored her then-highly favored teammate Kim Jin-ho and clinched the country’s first-ever archery gold. She was also recorded as South Korea’s first woman to win an Olympic gold. Immediately, Seo became a household name in her home country.

“Looking back, it seems that my memory of the days at the national athletes’ training center was not pleasant. The gold medal cost me many tears,” she said.

“Korean people take it for granted that archery was an event for South Korea. Nothing sounds more distressful to archers than such a view. My fellow archers used to joke among ourselves: ‘To win a gold medal is a matter of course. To win a silver medal is a crime.’”

She said that she had been shocked to learn that a U.S. archer whom she met during an international competition was a medical doctor. Seo was very envious of those who were able to play archery while studying in school or doing decent jobs.

To her, it came as regret that she forwent school and friends from the fourth year in her grade school as she bet everything on a golden dream in Olympics.

She and her family emigrated to the U.S. in 2004. All her family members are involved in sports. Her husband Park Kyung-ho is a judo gold medalist from the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. Her eldest daughter is a professional golfer, and her son a college baseball player. Her youngest daughter has just started to play golf.

When she went to the States, Seo was determined to quit archery and live as a common housewife. But the sport was inseparable from her. People came to her, asking for her coaching.

“At first, I didn’t want to coach, because I knew from my experience that one should give up everything else to pursue archery,” she said.

“Afterwards, I found that the U.S. offers an environment for a happy archery life. I am happy to be with children who study hard in school and enjoy archery after school,” she said. “I didn’t know archery could bring this much fun.”

Currently, the retired Olympic champion lives her second life teaching the sport in Irvine, California.

HSS Sports Academy that she opened about a year ago produces aspiring archers in southern California. About 30 percent of junior archers in the region are Korean Americans trained by her.

“Archery helps young students in many ways. Among others, it strengthens concentration and perseverance. They learn to control their minds.”

Asked whether she intends to coach an archer up to her past caliber, she said: “If a second Seo means a gold medalist, no, I don’t.”

“Sometimes I spot children with proper physique and a good feel for archery, but I first ask myself if an archery career would be really good for them. Victory or a gold medal should not be the foremost goal. To be a happy sportsman should come first.”

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