#Tokyo10: Oh Jin Hyek’s resilience rewarded with return to Olympics

#Tokyo10: Oh Jin Hyek.

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

  • Name: Oh Jin Hyek, recurve man from Korea.
  • Age: 39
  • World ranking: 35
  • Olympic experience: 2012 (individual gold, team bronze medal)

Oh Jin Hyek was the first man from Korea to win the individual Olympic title.

Nine years on from that historic accomplishment in London, he is very much on the back end of his career and has been rewarded for his persistence after delaying his retirement following the one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020.

The 2012 Olympic Champion does not have the exuberance of his early career – but he could, conceivably, win it all through grit and determination.

Does Oh have the willpower needed to muster one last run at an Olympic medal?

Reasons for hope

Every Korean archer going to Tokyo has something to prove. Kim Je Deok, the youngest athlete the team has ever sent to an Olympics, wants to carve out a new chapter in history. Kim Woojin, meanwhile, is surely desperate to prove that his once-in-a-generation talent is rightly rewarded with individual Olympic gold – despite a few nagging questions over his matchplay results at the highest level.

Oh Jin Hyek, however, wants to raise himself in the pantheon of the Korean archery gods – and, indeed, to go a step further. No one, except for Darrell Pace in 1976 and 1984, has ever won two individual Olympic gold medals in archery.

When Oh won the individual title at London 2012, it seemed like the crowning glory at the tail-end of a long, solid but otherwise less-distinguished professional career. But Oh wasn’t done yet. He kept on competing hard, taking Asian Games individual gold in 2014 and many more podiums, particularly in team events, out on the circuit.

He had some wilderness years in the late-2010s, relatively speaking, and has placed second twice in the individual event at the World Archery Championships – something one suspects that has gnawed at him a little.

Oh Jin Hyek shoots at stage four of the 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Berlin.

In the past few years, he has crushingly dominated the indoor circuit titles almost every time he has shown up. He recently became a father, and he was planning to retire at the end of 2020 but, when the Olympics were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to give it one more go.

He’s spoken at length about the difficult condition of his shoulder and is regularly seen receiving treatment from physiotherapists or other coaches during events.

When Oh started appearing at the top of the Korean trials results in 2020 and 2021, rarely dropping out of the top three, it seemed like he had almost done the impossible, against the toughest opposition in the world. Oh is 39 years old – the oldest Korean athlete going to the Games. When he competes in Tokyo, it will just be a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday.

If he topped the podium, in any event, it would make him the oldest male archery gold medallist in the modern era.

Reasons for concern 

Comeback king he may be, with all the experience in the world, but there’s always a small question mark over Oh’s fitness and the long-term shoulder problems almost caused him to retire in 2019. He went out to Japanese archer Yuki Kawata at the most recent Asia Cup tournament, and he hasn’t taken a major individual outdoor gold medal since 2014. This is his last shot. Does it come too late?

Path to victory

It’s worth having another watch of the final at London 2012, if you are able, and just how Oh walks out onto the biggest stage, with the grim determination of a man prepared to see the job through, at any cost. There is no doubt about his motivation or the incredible grit he has displayed to make it back to the top of the Korean archery pile.

It will probably take one of the biggest fish of all to take him down in Tokyo.

Did you know?

It’s not so well known that Oh almost made the team for Rio 2016 – missing out, according to him, by just a single arrow.

Header artwork by Eduardo Batán Molina.