Seven years on: Q&A with Beijing Olympic Champion Zhang Juanjuan

World Archery caught up with her as she recalled those special moments from Beijing and revealed what she’s been up to since the Olympic win.

Zhang Juanjuan is arguably the most successful Chinese archer of all time. She won women’s individual gold at Beijing 2008, team silver at the same Games and team silver at the Olympiad before at Athens 2004. Her individual run at the Beijing Games was not just notable because it ended with gold, nor just because she did it in front of a home crowd and on home soil – but because of who she beat in the eliminations round.

In back-to-back matches, she beat the entire Korean women’s team.

First Joo Hyung Jung, then Yun Ok Hee and, in the final, Zhang Juanjuan beat the legendary Park Sung Hyun. Park is the only woman to date to have ever scored over 1400 points on the 1440 Round. She shot 1405 back in 2004, which was the same year she set the 70-metre qualification world record to 682 and won double gold at the Athens Olympics.

Now a spectator, World Archery caught up with Juanjuan at the Shanghai 2015 Archery World Cup stage.

How do you feel when you watch the current Chinese archery team competing?

[Laughing] Sometimes I feel relaxed and want to just enjoy the match, but usually anxious, too. There’s usually a point where I want to shoot and help them along!

You are best known for your individual performance in Beijing in 2008. What do you remember most about that journey to the final?

I had found this incredible level of concentration and was just totally immersed in my own mind. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if the match was actually finished, because I was totally focused on my game. I knew my opponents were very strong, but I was totally confident that I could do better than them. I did not realise until much later what I had actually achieved. 

What happened after the Games?

One year after the Games I got married and then I had a baby in 2010. After that I moved into my current job as deputy director of an archery centre in Qingdao, in the Shandong province of East China. I manage the development programme and the Shandong archery team. The centre also has fencing, windsurfing and modern pentathlon.

When you teach archery at your centre, what do you tell your students the most important skill they can develop is?

The most important thing is having a strong basic technique and movement. Having said that, what makes an archer a champion is their psychological strength – and confidence – because this is what gives them the ability to control a match. You need to have heart as an archer and an athlete. This is what really makes the difference.

You were on a television programme called "Mission Impossible”, where you were challenged to shoot falling rings against an instinctive archer from Austria called Peter STECHER. What was that like?

[Laughing] I hadn’t shot seriously for a few years before I went on that show! I couldn’t even use my own bow; I had to get a lighter one. Plus, I only had a few days to practice before they filmed the piece – so it was not easy. After a few practice runs I started getting the hang of it, noticed the pattern and it started getting a little easier.

Watch the full video on YouTube.

What would you do to make archery more popular among the general public?

If everyone adopted the methods they use in Shanghai, where they attach the utmost importance to the archers, it would be much easier – especially in China. Shanghai and Shandong compete nationally but, from what I see in Shanghai, there are huge differences in the two places’ approach.

Shanghai promotes the sport as a recreational activity and couples that with the international sports spectacle. Here, they work really hard and really effectively to grow awareness – and the Archery World Cup stage is a big part of it.