From boy to man: 2014 Youth Olympic winner Lee Woo Seok now world #2
Lee Woo Seok was 17 years old when he won the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
Four years later, he’s an eight-time Hyundai Archery World Cup medallist, recent recipient of the silver medal at the World Cup Final and the world’s number-two-ranked recurve man.
“Supposing I showed 50% of my ability at the Nanjing Youth Olympics, I’m now showing 75% of it,” said Woo Seok.
The quarter that’s left?
“My goal is the Olympic Games. That’s where I’ll be at my 100%.”
Woo Seok’s family has a sporting background; his father played soccer. He stared archery at the age of 10 – and picked the sport for an unusual reason.
“There were two clubs in my elementary school, archery and gymnastics. I joined archery because they had more snacks than the gymnastics club,” he said, laughing.
“As I wasn’t allowed to have them at home, I thought it was my opportunity.”
The allure of sweets quickly turned into a passion for the Olympic dream and, more recently, the discipline of joining the professional archery team run by the Korean army’s physical training unit.
Although it took three years for Woo Seok to break into the top line-up in Korea, he’s been around the second team since his Youth Olympic win.
He shot his first Hyundai Archery World Cup stage in Medellin in 2015, and also represented Korea at the Universiade and Asian Archery Championships in 2017. But the big break came when he and Kim Woojin came a clear top two at the national selections for this past season.
Woo Seok said he felt “somewhat mystified to be in the top four, scared and excited at the same time”.
But when he got to the international stage, he didn’t disappoint.
In Shanghai, to start the 2018 season, he picked up an individual bronze and team gold. Then, in Antalya, he went head-to-head with teammate and self-proclaimed role model Kim Woojin in the recurve men’s gold medal match and beat him, 6-2.
“He and I seem to understand each other very well. It's like a sort of telepathy. But I didn’t cling to that result much as I thought we could have more good matches,” said Woo Seok.
And the repeats came, in the final of the Asian Games and then to close the 2018 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in Samsun. Kim took both matches.
Even though 21-year-old Lee Woo Seok didn’t take the season-ending title in his first year on the circuit, he was probably the happiest man on the field of play. He jumped, smiled and high-fived people on the way out.
“It was the third time I got to shoot against Kim Woojin and every time I had a different feeling about how the match might go. The first time, I was very excited; the second time, I was afraid and in Samsun, in the final, I felt a lot of pressure,” he said.
“In addition [to the silver medal], I also got a Longines watch and I’m happy for that. That was my last competition of the year and I’m satisfied.”
Lee Woo Seok won the watch for coming top in the Prize for Precision ranking in 2018, an award presented to the athlete who shoots the most 10s throughout the year.
His teammates, Olympic gold medallists Oh Jin Hyek, Im Dong Hyun and Kim Woojin, have already shown him considerable respect. Although, in true Korean tradition and as the youngest on the team, he’s often found carrying both his and one of the other’s bowcases. Being around such accomplished veterans of the sport has helped Woo Seok grow as an athlete.
“Oh is good at imagining matches in his head, Kim is the person who thoroughly prepares from start to finish, and Im is a real visionary, a forward-thinking man,” he explained.
“I think I’m more mature than before, rather than more successful. I now give great importance to quality rather than quantity.”
Archery, said Woo Seok, is like his long-term “spouse”. They’ve been together for 11 of his 21 years, after all.
But it’s a partner he’ll take a break from for the last couple of months of 2018 as he completes the final portion of his mandatory military service.
He’ll be back in time for 2019, where he said he expects not just to be on the team but delivering more outstanding results because, while Lee Woo Seok might already have had the dream journey from Youth Olympic Champion to one of the best archers in the world, he’s only just getting started.
“My dream has not come yet,” he said. “I can describe the Asian Games as a satisfying experience but I didn’t get the gold medal so my current goal is an Olympic medal.”
The third edition of the Youth Olympic Games takes place on 12-17 October 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.