Oh Jin Hyek: Things aren’t always under your control

Oh Jin Hyek is a two-time silver medallist, a winner of the Hyundai Archery World Cup and one of the most recognisable international recurve archers around. The Korean archer won two medals at the Olympic Games in London in 2012, incredibly becoming the first man from the sport’s dominant nation to win the individual crown.

From his first international podiums in 2009 to that historic win in London, Jin Hyek has tasted success and failure – and everything in between.

“It’s always been a little bit of a burden knowing that I have to perform well at every competition but, thankfully, particular competitions [like the Olympics] have gone well for me,” he said.

“Having to live up to that Olympic title has helped me work hard in my everyday training and I’m just working harder in everything I do in archery.”

Being part of the Korean national archery team, the cream of the sport’s elite, is no simple feat. Every year, potential team members go through a multi-stage selection process to chose the four athletes that compete at international tournaments and the four that will act as alternates.

Missing the team – as Oh did in 2016, preventing him from defending his Olympic title in Rio – is a serious learning process.

“I was too focused on the goal and not the process to get there,” he said. “I was obsessed with the fact that it was for the Olympics. I was disappointed. I was too concerned about the fact that I had to go.”

“After missing out on the team that year, I had an opportunity to re-evaluate myself. It was an opportunity for me to learn about myself as a person, apart from archery.”

Oh increased the number of arrows he was shooting in training, thinking it would bring better results. Instead, it affected his body – leaving an injury in his shoulder that he’s carried ever since.

“I realised through this injury that it may be the end of my archery career and it changed the way I thought. I realised things aren’t always in my control but while I have time, I’ll do my best and everything I can,” said Oh.

With less expectation and more comfort in his abilities and limitation, Oh returned to the national team in 2017.

He collected two team medals, silver and bronze, at World Cup stages in Shanghai and Berlin, and a bronze at the worlds in Mexico. No longer the dominant individual force he had been after London, Oh was now a consummate team player.

At the Korean trials for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Jin Hyek came from behind – shooting good arrows when it really mattered – to make the squad. He was enjoying the experience, he said, rather than pressuring himself:

“I didn’t feel like I had to make the team. It was just nice that I was able to compete against the archers in Korea and challenge them.”

For how much longer will this giant of the sport, now 36 years of age, continue to push his contemporaries?

“I haven’t set a timeline and I don’t feel like my level of shooting is lacking yet. I guess I will keep competing until my body can no longer endure it,” he said. 

“All four of my rotator cuff muscles are injured. I’d never say I’d quit right now but it all depends on how long my body can keep going.”

Oh has found ultimate success and lived through sporting failure.

He’s won archery’s biggest tournament in the Olympics and he’s felt the depths of disappointment, failing to make the team to defend that title. He’s won individually and as part of the best team in the world.

He’s experienced – and with the Korean squad featuring more and more athlete-turned-coaches, might the nation’s first men’s Olympic Champion move from the shooting line to a few metres behind it, as a coach?

“Yes, I have thought about it. It would probably take two to five years but I’d like to experience it.”

Oh Jin Hyek won the Olympic Games in London in 2012.