Best Olympic Archers of All-Time: #13 Im Dong Hyun

Each week in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, we’ll be revealing another athlete on our list of the top 15 Olympic archers of all time. This week, it’s…

#13: Im Dong Hyun

NOC: Korea 

Born: 12 May 1986, Chungbuk, South Korea 

Olympic caps: 3 (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012)

The Medals

Athens 2004 Olympic Games
Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
London 2012 Olympic Games

The quote

"I have to give up time, freedom… but this is what makes me who I am, this is why I'm here." - Im Dong Hyun

The Reason

In 2016, Im Dong Hyun did something quietly spectacular - he qualified for the Korean national team for the 14th year in a row. It is difficult to explain to someone outside archery just what an achievement this is, because the Korean national selection process is, by some distance, the toughest recurve tournament in the world.

No other Korean archer has managed to stay as in form for that long in the modern era. 

Over the years, Im has collected an extraordinary collection of wins including World Archery Championship, Archery World Cup Final and Asian Games individual gold medals, along with dozens of team trophies.

But it took until London 2012 for Im to make headlines around the world, when he broke the world record in the ranking round at the Olympics with 699 out of 720 for 72 arrows at 70 metres - a mark that still stands. 

Im is famously short-sighted, and sees a target at 70m as a blurry wash of colours. Most of the press interest focused on his eyesight, with many going as far as claiming he was ‘legally blind’.

Im wasn’t a big fan of that attention: “Given that it’s something as simple as eyesight, it seems as though they were confused. While it’s true that I have poor eyesight for an archer, I now wear glasses, and I’m grateful that people are interested. But from now on, it would be greatly appreciated if people can focus on my talents, too.”

Like most Korean archers, Im took up the sport at elementary school, at the suggestion of a teacher. Intense practice put him in a position to make the national team in 2002 when he was just 17 years old.

“I don’t have that many memories with my friends during school,” he admitted. “I wasn’t able to enjoy the school trips, festivals and such, so I think that my biggest sacrifice is that I couldn’t make many memories.”

His first Olympic appearance was at Athens 2004 – aged 19 - when he broke the ranking round world record for the first time, with 687. In the individual competition, he was eliminated by eventual silver medalist Hiroshi Yamamoto in the quarterfinals.

In the team competition, after squeaking past the Netherlands by a single point in their first match, the Korean team of Im, Park Kyung Mo and Jang Yong Ho weren’t seriously troubled again and took an expected Olympic gold. 

At Beijing 2008, Im was unexpectedly knocked out of the running by Vic Wunderle in the round of 16 - when he was the reigning world champion. In the team rounds a Korean team of Im, Park Kyung Mo and Lee Chang Hwan edged out Poland and China to face the Italian team, led by defending individual champion Marco Galiazzo.

Both teams fought their way to a tie with three arrows remaining, when Mauro Nespoli shot a seven. The Koreans answered with 9-10-9 to win, setting a new Olympic record of 227 points for the 24-arrow team round that was in use at that time, and Im had his second gold medal. 

He returned in London to win bronze with the men’s team, but despite setting the new world record he was defeated in the individual competition by Rick van der Ven in the last 16 - leaving Im still searching for that elusive Olympic individual medal to complete his trophy cabinet.

Now one of the more senior members of the Korean squad, Im ascribes his success to the deep concentration he achieves in practice, and maintaining a positive attitude.

“I think it has a lot to do with composure and confidence. The strongest part of my technique is really the experience that comes from many years of training.

"Archery is everything for me" he says. "It's given me fame and money. It's everything I've got - it's like a father and mother to me.”