So Chaewon: Korean compounds look to emulate recurve success

19 June 2017
Salt Lake City (USA)
The English-speaking Korean compound archer made her international outdoor debut in 2017.

Many of the first Korean compound archers who appeared on the international scene back in 2013 were experienced recurve archers who had converted disciplines. They were tasked with bringing back medals from the Asian Games one year later, which was the first to include compound archery.

At the same time, a second wave of archers – born more naturally into the bowstyle – was born. So Chaewon was one of them.

“I had been doing archery for three years in middle school, as part of an after-school class. At that time I shot a recurve bow. In Korea, most archers start in primary school so, relatively, I was too late. But I wanted to be an archer by profession,” So explained. 

“My middle school teacher suggested I should switch to compound. Maybe she thought it was less competitive in Korea. And I said yes!”

Fast forward four years and Chaewon is a professional compound archer for the Hyundai Mobis team domestically and – for the first time in 2017 – a member of Korea’s international team.

All things considered, it’s an incredibly-quick progression.

“I had to learn many things in short time. So I trained hard, and some people looked down on me because I didn’t have any previous career – but now it is advantage for me. I succeeded in a short time,” said Chaewon.

“My high school coach taught me a lot but even though she was a coach, she didn’t know about compound. There weren’t many good compound archers in Korea, so we learned together.” 

Now, though, that’s changed, and the rise of the discipline has bred a group of specialist coaches, just like it has archers.

Outside of archery, what also makes the 19-year-old snowboarder particularly interesting is her ability to speak English. While many members of the team know some words and can have a basic conversation, all the English-language interviews at events are done via translators. 

But the quotes in this article are So’s alone.

“I started archery so late, and that meant I had time for studying English,” she explained. “I like to learn foreign languages. And I’m happy to talk to foreign friends in English. I feel proud of that.”

Chaewon collected her first international hardware on the open-entry Indoor Archery World Cup circuit. She came second at the Bangkok legs in both 2015 and 2016 and came third at the final of the 2015/16 circuit.

She then won gold medals in the team and mixed team events at the first leg of the 2017 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Shanghai, China; her first event representing the national team.

“It was my first international tournament. I didn’t even think of gold medals. I couldn't afford to think because I was so nervous! In Korea, I feel tense, too – But it's completely different. I learned a lot from this Hyundai Archery World Cup event – and I will practice harder to achieve my dream,” she said.

That dream? Not so different from most archers on the field.

“I want to be the top in the world. That’s all I want.”

And, although the sample size from Shanghai is small, she’s off to a good start. Chaewon finished sixth individually, losing to Sarah Prieels in the quarterfinals, 143-141, but accrued an enviable average arrow score through qualification and her three matches.

At stage three of the tour, in Salt Lake City, So has the second-highest average arrow score of any compound woman competing.

Her 9.62 trails only world number one and 15-arrow match world record holder Sara Lopez over the last 24 months, and is marginally more than world number two, and stage two winner, Sarah Sonnichsen.

(Now, again, one event is a small sample size. But it’s a statistic worth watching.)

Outdoor archery over 50 metres, So said, is her favourite format. Shooting 10s all the time indoors is “quite burdensome” and, despite the wind and rain, having one consistent distances allows her to focus.

“In my opinion, compound archery is technically simpler. You’re almost like a machine. When it’s windy, though, it’s hard to shoot as well as with a recurve – because we have a lot to worry about: aiming, moving horizontally and then still not being able to shoot because things aren’t ready,” she added.

Chaewon, Kim Yunhee – the 2015 World Archery Champion – and Song Yun Soo, along with original Korean compound archer Choi Bomin, travelled to Salt Lake City as part of a full 16-strong national delegation that features three Olympic Champions.

“The recurve team has already been a great team in the world. That stimulates us to be like them. And the recurve team try to not forget their original intention by looking us,” said So. “We are complementary.”

The third stage of the 2017 Hyundai Archery World Cup runs 20 to 25 June in Salt Lake City, USA