#Tokyo10: Kang Chae Young the women’s Olympic favourite?

#Tokyo10: Kang Chae Young.

#Tokyo10 profiles 10 archers poised to make an impact at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

  • Name: Kang Chae Youngrecurve woman from Korea.
  • Age: 25
  • World ranking: 3
  • Olympic experience: None, she’s a first-timer.

The top woman on the team of the world’s leading competitive nation, and the winningest squad in the archery competitions at the Olympics with 39 podiums since 1984, Kang Chae Young is as close to a favourite to win gold in Tokyo as they come.

The Olympics, however, are rarely kind to the archers with the biggest targets on their backs. 

Will Kang overcome the immense weight of expectation that has been placed upon her shoulders? Or will she suffer the same fate that many world-class archers have suffered before her? Korean women have won nine of the last 10 titles and all eight team golds at the Games – but you’d have to go back to 2004, arguably, and Park Sung-Hyun to find when it was the consensus top member of the team that ultimately crested the podium.

Kang Chae Young shoots at the Bangkok 2019 Asian Archery Championships.

Reasons for hope

At the end of the notoriously gruelling Korean trials this year, Kang Chae Young received a 1.4-point bonus as the highest individual finisher at the most recent Hyundai World Archery Championships. (She lost the final there to Chinese Taipei’s Lei Chien-Ying.) Chae Young did not, however, need it to make the team for the Olympics, as she was by then four points clear of every other woman – and indeed had been at the top of the table for almost the entire duration of the trials.

That kind of statement after the pandemic break, following a 2019 in which she nearly completed a clean sweep of every tournament she entered, indicates that Kang has retained the form that made her the world number one for almost two years.

(While Lisa Barbelin and Deepika Kumari have pushed her from the top of that pile, the Koreans have not really competed on the world stage and have lost ground in the rankings due to inactivity, rather than poor performance.) 

It was always likely that she would be going to Tokyo – but we shouldn’t discount the internal drive from Kang after just missing out on qualification for the Korean team at Rio 2016. The air of unfinished Olympic business has hung over her career so far, and under her bubbly, slightly geeky personality – she lists making soap as one of her hobbies – there’s a base of steel, best expressed in her nickname, ‘The Destroyer’.

She remains the only recurve woman to have ever broken 690 points on the 72-arrow 70-metre qualifying round.

Reasons for concern 

The biggest question mark for Kang remains her second-place individual finish at the Hyundai World Archery Championships in ’s-Hertogenbosch in 2019, when a poor shoot-off arrow saw her lose to Lei Chien-Ying – although the event produced mixed results for many of the Korean archers. 

It didn’t fit the narrative, even if she bounced back quickly to win the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final and the Asian Championships just a few months later.  While only a driven performer like Lei could push her individually on a big stage, Kang’s junior Korean peers and Tokyo teammates, An San and Jang Minhee, finished above her at the Asia Cup in May. It may not be a predictor of what is to come. But they might just be the biggest threat to her walking away with the top prize.

Path to victory

Kang’s greatest asset is relentless consistency, the product of incredible mental discipline that keeps her producing results at the highest possible level. She doesn’t do off days. It’s always there.

Indeed, Kang places a singular emphasis on not overthinking the sport; as she put it after she first broke the ranking round world record in 2018: “I just trust in that shot feeling and don’t try and do anything else. Because I shoot best when my thought process is simple.” If only it was that easy, huh?

Did you know?

Like Kang, Chang Hye Jin similarly finished fourth in the national trials for London 2012 – and went on to be Olympic Champion next time round. Will history repeat itself?

Header artwork by Eduardo Batán Molina.