Can the Korean women get back on the road to the Paris 2024 Olympics?

Korean women's recurve team

The archery world gasped in August when the Korean recurve women’s team left the 2023 Hyundai World Archery Championships in ninth place after a shock defeat to Indonesia in the last 16. 

It wasn’t a complete collapse – just one errant arrow landing in the four in the third set from Kang Chae Young that handed their opponents the lead.

A drawn final set was enough to send Indonesia through and Korea home. 

You could almost say that it could have happened to anybody – and the senior worlds have a habit of throwing up unexpected results.

But it happened to the most dominant archery nation on the planet, and crucially, meant that the Korean women missed out on qualifying a full team for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games at the earliest opportunity – something that is usually a given, even at this advanced stage of the qualifying cycle.

The Korean recurve men’s team, winners in Berlin, do have a ticket to Paris, while the women added a single place courtesy of a mixed team gold medal at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games.

Seoul 88 winners

The idea of an archery competition at the Olympic Games without a full Korean women’s team is almost unthinkable. 

Paris represents an opportunity to hit a round milestone in one of the most astonishingly successful gold medal runs in Olympic history. Should Korea take another title, it will be 10 wins from 10 Games in the recurve women’s team event, a record that started with a victory on home turf at the Seoul 1988 Olympics (pictured above).

But that won’t be possible – unless they qualify. And the Bangkok 2023 Asian Archery Championships gives Korea a vital opportunity to do just that.

In a significant change to previous qualifying processes, the continental championships in Asia, Europe and the Americas now each award one men’s and one women’s team place. Bangkok marks the first of these competitions, with the other two continental champs taking place in 2024.

One place.

There is no room for error. Korea has to win. Theoretically, if they were to finish runner-up to a team that has already qualified, that would also win the tickets to Paris – but none of the Asian recurve women’s teams yet have a team spot.

It isn’t quite a last-chance saloon. But after Thailand, there’s only the final qualifier left.

An San and Choi Misun at the Asian Games

Normally the Asian Archery Championships are contested by the Korean B-team recurves.

Every year, eight archers in Korea qualify for the national squads and these are split into a top and bottom four.

The top, or A-team usually attend the Hyundai Archery World Cup and the other major international competitions, including the worlds and the Asian Games, while the B-team competes at the Asian champs and Asia Cup tournaments.

This year’s B-team features 2012 Olympic Champion Ki Bo Bae – and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect at least one big stage appearance from the former star (below) – still one of the biggest draws in the sport.

Nobody has tried to ask the Korean Archery Association if sending the A-team to Bangkok this year was always the plan.

You probably wouldn’t get an answer anyway. But what’s clear is that the federation is taking no chances by sending its full-strength side of Tokyo triple-gold-medallist An San, Kang Chae Young, Lim Sihyeon, and Choi Misun, along with the top men’s squad.

It’s a pretty clear statement of intent. 

Ki Bo Bae

The Korean women will face tough competition from squads like China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Indonesia and India for that precious team ticket to Paris.

While on paper they should be favourites to win, it’s unlikely to prove easy – not least because we’ve already seen a major upset of the nation this season, and teams like Kazakhstan, Vietnam or Malaysia are more than capable of authoring another. 

Team competitions are often decided on wafer-thin margins.

Archery matches are won or lost in the head and Korean athletes are not immune to nerves, especially on the biggest stages. The unsaid pressure on their shoulders entering this assumed ‘gimmie’ of an event must be huge – and leaving without the spots would crank it up even further.

It remains highly unlikely that the Korean women won’t take to the field in Paris in pursuit of a record 10th Olympic title.

After the final qualifier, the top two unqualified nations in the world rankings will be issued spots for the Games, but not winning places outright in Bangkok would massively embolden their biggest rivals. Any psychological advantage would be seriously weakened and this as-yet insurmountable force would suddenly seem… normal.

If the Korean women don't win this week in Bangkok, the ‘great white sharks’ could quickly turn from the hunters to the hunted.

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