Meet the team: the formidable Chinese Taipei recurve women
Standing in front of this group of young ladies, you might just be looking at the biggest threat to the Korean women’s run of Olympic team victories – and they don’t even have an team quota space to the Olympics yet.
Meet Le Chien-Ying, Tan Ya-Ting and Lin Shih-Chia – the three ladies who make up the Chinese Taipei recurve women’s team. They’re pictured in the introduction to this article in Shanghai, at the first stage of the 2016 Hyundai Archery World Cup, where they took team gold against India – one of the four recurve medals the squad in blue took home that Sunday.
This team, though, is best known for something it did last year.
In 2015, the Universiade, the bi-annual celebration of university sports was held in Gwangju, Korea. Naturally, the home team was expecting more than a few gold medals, and a brand-new archery stadium had been built in anticipation.
A full-strength Korean women’s side competed in the gold medal match against Chinese Taipei, in front of a noisy, sold-out crowd… which suddenly went silent, as Chinese Taipei confidently took the match, 5-3.
After that performance, Rio qualification in Copenhagen seemed a snap. But even as the men’s team took three spots, Taipei’s women unexpectedly lost their crucial first-round tie against Colombia, in treacherous conditions.
“The pressure was so high. We didn’t perform to the top of our ability,” admits Tan Ya-Ting.
It was a devastating blow, softened the next day by Lin gaining a single Olympic women’s place in the second-chance competition and finally taking an individual silver medal against eventual champion World Archery Champion Ki Bo Bae.
The ladies in blue had one last surprise for Ki in 2015: at the Archery World Cup Final in Mexico City, the ‘Empress Of Archery’ was denied a shot at holding all three major titles simultaneously, beaten in the first round by Le Chien-Ying, the newest member of the Chinese Taipei team, who went on to take bronze.
Even with the Shanghai title secured, the team is currently focused solely on gaining three women’s places for Rio at the last Olympic qualifier in Antalya next month.
Coach Ni Ta-Chih is adamant: “That’s the goal. We’re not focusing on the World Cup tournaments. But our players have made great progress and growth in their spirit and attitude in Shanghai.”
“Our objective is clear. The atmosphere is good, we’re all the same age, everyone has great teamwork, great spirit. There’s no half-measures. The target is always the final.”
All three archers started young, aged nine or 10 years old.
“It was an after-school activity,” says Le. “Back then, I thought archery seemed very different compare with other sports. At that time the sports in school were mostly athletics and volleyball. But I thought archery was cool!”
Fast-forward to 2016, when the team are training six hours a day, six days a week at their residential national training centre – and shooting over 2,000 arrows a week.
We ask them makes them tick.
What do you want to do if you get to Rio?
Tan Ya-Ting: “In 2012, we participated in the Olympics for the first time, which was almost unbelievable. We didn’t really have expectations. This time around we want to achieve a number of accomplishments for the country - and ourselves. It’s a little different.”
What makes you different?
Le Chien-Ying: “Shooting fast.”
Tan Ya-Ting: “Shooting smoothly and fluently, even when I’m nervous.”
Lin Shih-Chia: “I’d say it’s my stability, but I think it’s our attitude, our team spirit that makes us different. There’s no doubts.”
Is perfectionism a positive attitude or a negative one?
Lin Shih-Chia: “I think the pursuit of perfection is a goal. But if you’re too inflexible, it will probably have the opposite effect. So I think you should set a goal, but without getting too attached!”
Do you believe in luck?
[Long pause, then a collective answer…] “Yes.” [Much laughter]
How do you prepare for a final?
“Relax. Try not to think about it too much! Sleep well!”
Who inspires you?
Tan Ya-Ting: “My idol is myself.” [Much laughter around the table]
Finally, the big question: are you the biggest threat to Korea in Rio?
Ni Ta-Chih: “Of course!”
“Yes, Korea is the powerhouse in archery, everybody wants to prove themselves against them. But other countries can get the results, too.”
“The current goal for us is qualifying for the Games, but I think with their ability it shouldn’t be a problem, and from the past few years, in the international competitions, regardless of group or individual match, we have taken home the medals.”
“As for Korea: this time we won’t be afraid, there is no pressure like before - all the pressure is on them. We just have to be ready. The biggest enemy is ourselves. Regardless whether it’s Korea or other teams, we will have to play to our maximum capacity.”
There’s a sense of wound-up energy about this Chinese Taipei team: they know just how good they are, but haven’t yet proved it to the whole world.
What’s their final piece of advice for archers?
“Enjoy the moment. And never give up. Never!”