Best Olympic Archers of All-Time: #5 Yun Mi Jin

9 June 2016
World Archery’s list of the best Olympic archery athletes in history from Paris 1900 to London 2012.

Some images courtesy Yoshi Komatsu.

Each week in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, we’ll be revealing another athlete on our list of the top 15 Olympic archers of all time. This week, it’s…

#5: YUN MI JIN

NOC: Korea 

Born: 30 April 1983, Daejeon, South Korea 

Olympic caps: 2 (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004)

The Medals

Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
Athens 2004 Olympic Games

The quote

“What’s the most important skill for an archer? Training. The strongest part of my technique is effort.” – Yun Mi Jin.

The Reason

Few teams have ever dominated an Olympic competition like the Korean women at Sydney 2000.

No-one else even came close, as Yun Mi Jin, Kim Nam-Soon and Kim Soo-Nyung swept the individual podium. It seemed no one could beat a Korean who wasn't a Korean themselves.

Just 18 years old, Yun had only been in the national team for a year when she was selected for Sydney.

And she had only started the sport reluctantly. At school, Mi Jin was known as ‘Pishiri’, which roughly translates as ‘sleepy person’ – and it stuck.

“Yes, that’s my nickname! A teacher nicknamed me Pishiri, because I fell down really often and walked so slowly during junior high school,” she admitted.

“I had no interest in archery, but I decided to give it a try as a way to get out of school and hang out with one of my closest friends who wanted to learn. But my coach taught archery so well that I fell in love with it.”

Mi Jin said that she wasn’t particularly talented at the sport when she first picked it up – but however reluctant she was to begin with soon gave way to determination.

“Some people are naturally gifted at [archery], and some people have to put in a lot of effort. I’m not competent enough to be called “gifted”, and effort is the only way I can take a step forward, so training was absolutely necessary,” she said.

Yun rose rapidly through the ranks. At Sydney 2000, the Koreans had such strength in depth that the Asian Games Champion Kim Jo-Sun and World Archery Champion Lee Eun-Kyung hadn't even made the team.

In the individual competition, Yun broke the world record for the 18-arrow match in the last 16 against Alison Williamson, brushed aside Natalia Bolotova of Russia 110-105, and then defeated her teammate Kim Soo-Nyung, one of the most decorated Olympians of all-time, by two points in the semifinals.

(Kim went on to take the bronze medal over Choe Ok Sil of North Korea, keeping things on the Han Peninsula and capping an even more extraordinary career).   

Yun and teammate Kim Nam-Soon were tied after seven arrows in the final, but Yun just edged ahead over the final two ends, eventually taking gold by just a single point, 107-106. It was a second time there had been a clean sweep of the individual podium in the modern era – the Korean women had done the same in 1988.

Speaking this year, Yun said: “Though I competed very much in the moment, I tried my best to savour each and every second nonetheless. Thinking about it now, I have no idea where I even got the courage to do that! But if I hadn’t won, I probably would’ve challenged myself over and over again until I finally got a gold medal.” 

Two days later the Korean women’s team steamrollered the USA, Germany, and finally the Ukraine to take gold. Each match was won by at least 12 points.

It was the most dominant women's team display of all time.

And it meant that Yun had the double: individual and team Olympic archery gold at the same event, something only ever achieved by three other athletes – all Korean women. 

In 2002, Yun took an Asian Games team title and, one year later, then became individual World Archery Champion in New York. So much was expected from her at Athens 2004 that she was featured on the front of Time magazine's Olympic preview edition.

Despite falling ill during the crucial warm-up months, Yun placed third in the ranking round and tied her own Olympic record in the last 32 round, but was unexpectedly defeated by Yuan Shu-Chi of Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals, in treacherous wind conditions at the Panathinaiko Stadium.  

A frustrated Yun went straight out onto the practice field, shooting alone until darkness fell.

A few days later, in the team competition, Korea again blazed into the final, running into an in-form China and eventually winning by just a single point with Park Sung Hyun’s last arrow, in one of the all-time great Olympic archery matches.

“The biggest strength in Korean archery remains being able to power through the competition without letting up, never releasing the pressure,” Yun said.

She took world team gold in 2005 and medalled in Archery World Cup events in 2006 and 2007, but didn’t reappear in the Olympic team. But Yun hasn’t retired yet, and still teaches juniors. 

“I still shoot. My career as an archer was a cycle which contained countless slumps that I had to overcome. I’ve experience so many things technically and physiologically, and I hope all I’ve gone through will contribute to me coaching others in the future,” she said.

Yun completed a masters degree with a thesis topic of Psychological Skills In Performance Archery. She also commentated at the Incheon 2014 Asian Games alongside Ki Bo Bae

She retains a deep passion for the sport.

“Archery will help you grow higher concentration. But you will get where you want to be if you love and enjoy what you do, as well as persistently trying hard,” said Yun Mi Jin. 

“What I want to achieve is happiness. I need to be happy in order for me to enjoy everything, for my skills to arise, and to come alive. I always strive for happiness. The person with the most sincere trust in themselves is the real winner.”

Athletes