First record falls to blind archer Im Dong Hyun

PETER HANLON
Last updated 13:16 28/07/2012
Im Dong Hyun
Getty Images
RECORDBREAKER: Im Dong Hyun of South Korea, who is legally blind, broke his own world record in the archery ranking round.

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The first truly Olympian performance of the London Games came before the flame was even lit, when South Korean archer Im Dong Hyun - a 26-year-old who is legally blind and sees the target as a canvas of different coloured paints dropped in water - broke his own world record on Friday morning.

Im shot a score of 699 in the team ranking round at Lord's, surpassing his old mark by three, and with teammates Kim Bub Min and Oh Jin Hyek also broke the team world record for 72 arrows with a score of 2087.

Im's steady creep towards a perfect individual score of 720 is remarkable for a man whose eyesight is 20/200 in his left and leading eye, when 20/20 marks perfection. His right eye is rated at 20/100, equating to overall vision 10 times worse than ideal.

He can't read letters on a keyboard or a newspaper, yet insists he isn't disabled and is famously tetchy about the attention his severe myopia brings. It has never hampered his performance; Im has been a member of the three-man teams that have won gold at the past two Olympics, continuing a South Korean dominance that amounts to four of the six men's team golds contested.

On the contrary, archery experts believe his impairment might be an asset. "We say in archery, if you don't think too much and you don't see too much, it's good, because you are focused," says Juan Carlos Holgado, who won a famous team gold for Spain 20 years ago in Barcelona.

"When you don't see too much, you just aim in the circle, and things start to group. He sees the target, he sees the sight, he can align the two circles, that's enough."

It was certainly enough on the Lord's Nursery Ground yesterday morning, as the archery ranking round was held to decide opponents for Saturday's elimination phase, which will be held on the main range, with archers firing from in front of the pavilion and over the wicket square.

Im's performance will bring focus not only on his triumph over adversity but on his sport, where a proliferation of Korean coaches have brought a discipline and zeal to the many nations who pay for their services. Elite archers now train for up to nine hours a day, revealed by a British Olympic Association survey to be more than any other Olympic athletes.

"Before we had a Korean coach, we would shoot three or four hours a day," says Rahul Banerjee, a contender to win individual gold for India. "Now we have a Korean coach, we shoot eight or nine hours."

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Very little of this toil is physical, for archery is the most zen of Olympic pursuits. It is surely also the quietest; archers from more than a dozen countries have practised this week in a silence punctuated only by the whisper of arrow leaving bow, and the soft pock of its entry into the target 70 metres away.

Waiting for his rotation on Thursday, Im sat as still as a statue. Minutes passed before any sign of life, and even when a hand lifted to scratch one of his broad shoulders, it was done with an economy of effort that smacked of a man in a trance.

The quest to unpick the lock to this "zone" is why archers are more likely to be found on a yoga mat than a treadmill. "Our main goal is to be in the present," Holgado says. "If you are focused on what you do, you've done it a thousand times, you create the zone."

Which is where Im famously found himself on Friday morning.

- FFX Aus

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