Is Kim Je Deok the real deal?

Kim Je Deok at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The youngest archer at Tokyo 2020 is a legitimate medal contender.

Korea’s Kim Je Deok will be just 17 years, 3 months and 12 days old when the Games begin with qualifying on Friday. He’s shooting at his first Olympics – and he’s still a high-school student.

“I didn’t know,” he said when asked if he knew he was the most junior athlete on the shooting line. “I knew I would be one of them.”

Just eight years of age during the 2012 Olympics in London, the man who won there, Oh Jin Hyek, is now Je Deok’s teammate.

And while the pair are very much at the opposite ends of their careers, with the imposing figure of Oh destined for retirement at the end of this year, there’s a certain magic in watching them together on the training field. It feels symbolic.

Perhaps it’s the passing of a metaphorical torch?

“I rely on them a lot. I will follow their lead,” the youngster said of his relationship with Jin Hyek and Kim Woojin. “[They told me to] relax, be confident and have faith in yourself.”

“A talent like Je Deok comes once in a 100 years,” Yun Ok-Hee is reported to have said earlier this year.

That’s the same Yun Ok Hee who holds the record for the longest cumulative time spent at number one in the world rankings in the Hyundai Archery World Cup era. (It’s 1195 days.)

Je Deok was almost bashful when asked about the comment.

“I need to grow more, and I need to experience more,” he said.

The teenager has only competed at one international event as a senior – the Asia Cup last month in Gwangju, where the Japanese Olympic team joined the Korean squad for some match practice ahead of the Games.

But there he impressed, defeating his two-time World Archery Champion teammate Woojin in a high-scoring final, only weeks after beating out plenty of more experienced archers for a spot on the Olympic team during Korea’s trials.

The Korean men arrive for training at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Je Deok is, in fact, the only archer undefeated in 70-metre matchplay in the World Archery database entering Tokyo.

And his average arrow, at 9.48 points, has him second to only Kim Woojin (by a fraction of a decimal).

It’s said that the Olympics are often won by first-timers.

Kim Je Deok is exactly the kind of Games debutant who could deliver an individual gold medal next week in Tokyo. He’s young, he’s talented and at such a young age, he’s fearless.

“My confidence makes me strong,” he said, standing at the side of the training field in Yumenoshima Park, before uttering the Korean team’s call-to-arms.


The archery competitions at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games start on 23 July.

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