Oh Jin Hyek riding off into the sunset after one last Olympics

Oh Jin Hyek shoots during practice at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Oh Jin Hyek has been burdened with shoulder issues for a decade. 

The first Korean man to collect an individual Olympic gold medal in archery tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder in 2011, only to overcome the pain and discomfort to win the London 2012 Olympic Games and deliver what had been eluding the Korean team for decades. 

His failure to qualify for the following Olympics in Rio – missing the cut, he says, by a single arrow – seemed to suggest the end of his competitive career. 

In 2017, Oh could not draw his bow during the national team’s training camp. Overwhelmed with pain, he was forced to confront the possibility of retirement.

Yet here Oh finds himself, back with the Korean national team in Tokyo with one last chance at Olympic glory. The resilient veteran delayed his retirement after the Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have endured shoulder pain for three years for the 2020 Olympics, so why can’t I endure it one more year?” Oh told the Korean press. 

He’s on the practice field in Tokyo now, staying out longer than any of his teammates and shooting through the afternoon, while they rested. The Korean team will shoot under the spotlights in the arena this evening and during the day tomorrow.

“I am very grateful to be back in the Olympics, and I hope that I will do my best to get good results as I think it will be my last,” he said. “My right shoulder injury is not getting better. It’s time to give my shoulders a rest.”

A lot can happen in the week to follow.

In London, Oh demonstrated his desire to win with grim determination, defeating Takaharu Furukawa of Japan to elevate his reputation from solid professional to Olympic Champion.  A victory in Tokyo would make him just the second archer after Darrell Pace of the United States (1976, 1984) to win two individual Olympic gold medals in archery.

Oh is 39 years old – the oldest Korean athlete going to the Games. If he tops the podium, in any event, it will make him the oldest male archery gold medallist in the modern era, since archery’s return to the programme in 1972.

“Everyone dreams of winning an Olympic medal, but the participation itself is very meaningful, and we will do our best to win a medal,” Oh said. “I didn't win the team event at the last Olympics, so I really want to try to win the team event.”

Korea didn’t compete on the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit in 2021, choosing instead to prepare for the Games at home, building a gigantic replica stadium and running various simulations of the tournament format.

There was uncertainty about how archery’s leading nation would slot in after the near-two-year break.

“Even though we didn’t go to international tournaments, I took part in domestic events and shot in the Asian Cup in Gwangju last month, so I don't think there is any problem with the sense of competition,” Oh said.

This is, undoubtedly, the veteran’s last hurrah.

“The Olympic medal is the most valuable and best gift in my archery life,” he said of his previous success.

No matter the injury, no matter his age, no matter the opponent, Oh is here to give it his all. That should be a terrifying prospect for the rest of the field, and encouraging for teammates Kim Woojin and Kim Je Deok, the youngest athlete here, ahead of the all-important team event.

“We have prepared well,” Oh said. “Mentally and technically we are ready to win.”