Face of an Olympic Champion: Ku Bonchan

20 August 2016
Rio de Janeiro (BRA)
Ku Bonchan became only Korea’s second men’s Olympic Champion, completing a first gold medal clean sweep, at Rio 2016.

The second of two profiles on the new Olympic Champions, Chang Hye Jin and Ku Bonchan, crowned at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.


NOC: Korea 

Born: 31 January 1993, Kyung-Ju, South Korea

Olympic caps: 1 (Rio 2016)

The medals

Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Other achievements

  • runner-up at the World Archery Championships (Copenhagen 2015)
  • Archery World Cup stage winner (Shanghai 2015)
  • 19+ international individual, team, mixed team medals

Olympic journey

Ku Bonchan became only the second Korean athlete to win Olympic gold in the men’s individual competition on 12 August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It happened at the first opportunity after Oh Jin Hyek, Korea’s first winner in the competition, was crowned.

“It means honour and pride,” said Ku while looking at his medal. “I’m the second Korean man to become an Olympic Champion and it happened only four years after the Games in London in 2012.”

Born in Kyung-Ju, a city in the southeast of South Korea, close to where teammate and Rio 2016 Olympic Champion Chang Hye Jin originated, Ku reflected on a journey that started in 2004, when he was 12 years old.

“I was in fifth grade at school when one of my teachers suggested I could be good for archery,” he said.

He pursued the suggestion and spent the next 10 years figuring out that his teacher was right, although – initially – the idea of becoming a professional archer never crossed his mind.

“I never really thought about being a top level archer, but in 2013, when I made the Korean national team for the first time ever, for the Asian Archery Championships, I knew there was something else for me to do in the sport. I liked that experience and I decided that I wanted to stay on the team,” he said.

At those Championships in Taipei City, Ku finished fourth individually, and collected one gold and one silver in the men’s team and mixed team competitions, respectively.

Two years later, in 2015, he won his first gold medal at a Hyundai Archery World Cup stage – in Shanghai.

As part of a strong Korean men’s team, the achievements flowed.

Ku became World Archery Champion in Copenhagen with the squad and, since he made the team, the Korean men never failed to podium at any international event. (Dating back to 2014.)

“I studied physical education at university, so it helps me a lot in terms of my preparation. I’m aware of all the effort and dedication needed in training to become a good archer,” he said.

For Ku, who said he believes that nothing comes easily in archery, the most important – and challenging – aspect to the sport is mental preparation.

“It’s more about the mental strength than your physical conditions. You win with good technique and shooting the 10, but mostly with a strong mind that pushes you to win,” he said.

Riding that mentality, Ku arrived in Rio with objective: winning men’s team gold – which he, Kim Woojin and Lee Seungyun did in style. Individually, any medal was a plus.

As the elimination matches advanced, Kim and Lee fell out of the event – and Ku was the only Korean man that made it to the latter stages. He survived a pair of shoot-offs in the quarter- and semifinals, and then beat Frenchman JC Valladont to Olympic gold.

Of his Olympic matches, Ku described the clash with the USA’s Brady Ellison as the most difficult.

“Early this year, I lost against Brady in a shoot-off, which was the same situation we had in the semifinal. I was nervous because I knew he had beat me before, but this time, he didn’t. This time, I won,” he said.

Ku took that tiebreaker with a nine against Brady’s eight.

He celebrated – and one match later, became the first Korean man to win two gold medals at the same Games.

“If I look back, there’s no doubt that winning two golds in Rio, becoming a two-time Olympic Champion, is probably the best thing I have ever done in my archery career. It’s the pay-off for all the hard work I have done in the past few years,” he said.

“Rio 2016 will definitely be one unforgettable experience for me and for the entire team. This is the first time Korea wins four medals at the Olympics. We made history and that will remain forever.”

The archery competition Rio 2016 Olympic Games ran 5-12 August in the Sambodromo.