Kaufhold’s toppling of Olympic Champion a lesson in self-belief

Casey Kaufhold celebrates her semifinals victory at the Yankton 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships.

Credit where it’s due. 

Jang Minhee was exceptional in her push for gold at the 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships, and her victory in the recurve women’s individual final automatically cements her place within Korea’s staggering archery legacy.

The third seed of the tournament survived two shoot-offs on her way to the top of the medal stand. Outlasting a competitive field composed of the best archers in the world is unequivocally an accomplishment worth celebrating. 

But consider: 49 recurve women’s gold medals have been awarded at the world championships since 1933, and Jang is the 11th archer from Korea to win such an honour.

The 22-year-old, while impressive, is not alone in her distinction.

With that caveat aside, let’s rewind to the semifinals of Sunday’s proceedings at Riverside Park, where observers witnessed a truly remarkable phenomenon.

Fresh off her debut at the Olympics – and tasked with perhaps the most daunting challenge an archer could face this season – 17-year-old Casey Kaufhold of the USA upset three-time Olympic Champion An San of Korea, who was on pace to claim her third world championship title of the week here in Yankton.

Through three events at the Olympics and two at the world championships, An San had known nothing but success, ascending to the top of the podium in dominant fashion. 

She became the first archer in the sport’s modern history to win three gold medals in a single edition of the Olympics in Tokyo – a feat that could only be matched by her march for another three golds in Yankton.

An began the week by guiding Korea toward gold in the recurve mixed and women’s team events, just as she had in Tokyo. The only thing more remarkable than the reigning Olympic Champion’s run for a matching world championship individual gold was the air of inevitability that seemed to surround it.

“I knew that if I held back at all, I was not going to win,” said Kaufhold, who did the unthinkable by beating An, 6-2, to reach her first-career individual gold medal match in an international tournament.

“I went out there with the mentality that I have nothing to lose, so I just gave it my all and was able to beat her, which not that many people can say they did. It was one of the best matches I’ve ever shot.”

In fact, only one person this season can say they’ve beaten the Olympic Champion.

Casey Kaufhold shoots at the Yankton 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships.

This was no fluke – no aberration that broke in Kaufhold’s favour.

The young archer qualified fifth in the tournament, giving her a bye into the third round, where she beat 2014 world indoor champion Veronika Marchenko, 6-2, before defeating Romania’s Madalina Amaistroie, 6-4, and India’s Ankita Bhakat, 6-2, in the quarterfinals. She earned her route to the final four.

Earlier this year, Kaufhold broke the under-21 world record for the 72-arrow 70-metre qualifying round, becoming the first archer in the junior age group to shoot higher than 680. 

Her score of 682 out of 720 points broke the previous record of 678, which was shot in 2019.

That record was held by An San.

“Even though she’s an Olympic Champion, which is obviously amazing, and she has accomplished so many great things, at the end of the day, we’re both archers and we both made it here,” Kaufhold said. 

“It’s taken me a long time to learn how to do that: to know that whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, all you really need is nine good arrows. I knew that I had prepared hard enough to beat her, so you can’t necessarily judge your opponent before a match, because anything can happen.”

Kaufhold’s victory guaranteed the USA its first recurve women’s medal at the world championships in 33 years.

Jang Minhee would avenge An San by securing gold for the world’s most competitive archery nation, incidentally drawing Korea level with the USA on golds in the all-time medal table at the worlds. (Although still in second position on silver count.)

While the consistency she showed in the semifinals couldn’t carry over for one more match, Casey’s rise in the sport won’t be contained much longer. 

With invaluable experience on the finals stage here in Yankton under her belt, Kaufhold will look to continue her success later this week at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.

“On any given day, anybody can win these. It just depends on who’s strongest at that moment,” Kaufhold said. “I want to go into this tournament with the same mentality: just go out there, have nothing to lose, stick with the mental and physical process, and it’ll be there.”

The 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final starts on Wednesday 29 September.