’84 Olympian remembers Korea’s debut worlds: “We surprised everyone”

8 September 2017
Berlin (GER)
Sally, now 57 years old, competed in the 1979 world championships held by Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Pictures courtesy Park Young Sook.

Thirty-eight years after the World Archery Championships were held next to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, one member of the Korean squad at that event returned to the same field when she was an international judge at the fourth and last stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in 2017.

Park Young Sook, also known as Sally, was a member of Korea’s first-ever women’s team, sent to compete in its first worlds in Berlin.

“In 1979, we didn’t know our level,” said Sally. “When we arrived at the Olympic Stadium, we saw so many photographers on the field following the best in the world and we thought: ‘oh this is amazing’!”

“Then, when we started the competition and we were ranked first, all those photographers moved to the Korean team to take pictures. We surprised everyone.”

At the time, the championship was decided over two 1440 Rounds – FITAs – and Sally, Kim Jin-Ho, An Jea Soon and Hwang Sook-Zoo’s combined total of 7341 points led the field, 93 ahead of Australia in second.

“I remember the first time all the photographers followed while shooting the target face,” she said.

It wasn’t just the media that made an impression.

“Berlin shared something we were having in Korea with the division of the country with the war,” Sally recalled. “So, when we saw what happened in Germany after the war was finished, we thought there was hope for us.”

Sally went on to shoot at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, where she finished 17th. In 1987, due to a shoulder injury, she decided to end her career as an athlete, moving into other aspects of the sport.

One year later, Korea’s women won the first team event at the Olympics – and they’ve never lost since.

“I now like shooting, coaching and judging equally. I have no preference. When I coach, I focus on how to help archers shoot well. When I’m judging, I concentrate on my duty as judge,” she said.

Sally was coach for the Italian recurve women’s team that won gold at the worlds in Turin in 2011.

She’s worked with the Korean youth squad and the Singapore team but, lately, her time has been spent in Africa, where she coached Areneo David to become Malawi’s first archery Olympian at Rio 2016.

That experience, said Sally, changed her perspective on life.

“In Gumulila, Malawi they are not well-educated, so even though I explained how to aim, they didn’t understand. It was difficult because they don’t have any television, radio, newspaper. Even when I tried to teach them how to add [when scoring], they didn’t understand,” she explained.

The challenges were far and above that of a normal coaching position.

Back in Berlin, the place in which the Korean women’s dominance of the Olympic side of the sport first began, Sally still has her eye on the athletes that now represent the squad.

“This Korean team practises a lot. They started to be organised and practice hard since they were young. I started when I was 13 years old, but now, even young people train as if they were part of the national team,” said Sally.

“I think they’re amazing and it’s due to the hard work of coaches and the Korea Archery Association.”

Sally’s hoping to go back to Malawi but first needs to secure funding.

While she waits, she’s taking some time off – and shooting some arrows. Thirty years after she ended her international career, this 1984 Olympian is eyeing a return to the tournament line.

“I want to train,” she said. “I want to shoot at a World Masters Games.”

The fourth stage of the 2017 Hyundai Archery World Cup took place on 8 to 13 August in Berlin, Germany.