Celebs Ringside at Floyd Mayweather vs Arturo Gatti - WBC Lightweight Title Fight - June 25, 2005
Friends Tom Brady and Donald Trump
  • 70% of NFL players are black.
  • 74% of NBA players are black.
  • 88% of blacks voted for Clinton.
  • 8% of blacks voted for Trump.

With the ouster of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, two years ago, and the more visible acts of support for causes like Black Lives Matter, the NBA appears to have more of an activist bent than most North American sports leagues. Thus, the reaction by NBA players and coaches to the election of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States has been more predictable.

Gregg Popovich, one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, had this to say: “Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenure and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.”

Then there was 5-time NBA champion and coach of the champion Golden State Warriors in 2015, Steve Kerr, who spoke out in frustration recently.

… all of a sudden you’re faced with the reality that the man who’s gonna lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words. That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. I wish him well. I hope he’s a good president. I have no idea what kind of president he’ll be because he hasn’t said anything about what he’s going to do. We don’t know. But it’s tough when you want there to be some respect and dignity, and there hasn’t been any. And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife who have basically been insulted by his comments and they’re distraught. Then you walk in and see the faces of your players, most of them who have been insulted directly as minorities, it’s very shocking. It really is.

Coach Kerr openly stated the million dollar question in team sports – how does a coach coach a team of whites, blacks and hispanics who are united by team purpose, but possibly divided by national purpose?

The NFL has a similar ratio of black players to the NBA. But the press has reported more comments from coaches in support of President-Elect Trump, compared to the NFL. Certainly, the most famous case is the coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, who tends to be tightlipped about anything he believes not relevant to his football team, and play on the field. And yet, Trump quoted a letter from Belichick to Trump on the eve of the presidential election, clearly seeing an opportunity to get more votes in the New England states.

My guess is Belichick would have preferred to keep the contents of his letter quiet, but when confronted, he did explain his relationship with Trump at a news conference. “Our friendship goes back many years. Anybody who spends more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person. My comments are not politically motivated. I have a friendship with Donald.”

The New England Patriots’ organization is famous for the strict control it imposes on its players in regards to talking with the press, and very little has been heard from the players, except for their star quarterback, Tom Brady, who is also known as a long-time personal friend of Donald Trump.

In terms of football, the words of Belichick and Brady are the most important on the team. But when your coach, your star quarterback and even the owner of the team are friends of Trump, what impact will this have on the team fabric, likely made up of a number of players who view Trump as a racist?

rex-ryan-and-donald-trump
Rex Ryan and Donald Trump

The Buffalo Bills are not the New England Patriots. The Bill’s head coach, Rex Ryan, has openly supported Trump, even giving speeches for Trump at rallies in Buffalo.

“There’s so many things I admire about Mr. Trump, but one thing I really admire about him is—you know what—he’ll say what’s on his mind,” Ryan said in this Bleacher Report article. “And so many times, you’ll see people—a lot of people—want to say the same thing. But there’s a big difference: They don’t have the courage to say it. They all think it, but they don’t have the courage to say it. And Donald Trump certainly has the courage to say it.”

When Ryan was the coach of the New York Jets, my hometown team, it was clear that Ryan was seen as a player’s coach, the kind of guy you would run through the wall for. But supporting Trump may have an impact on team dynamics. In that same Bleacher Report article, a couple of Bills’ players were quoted anonymously that their coach’s comments did not sit well with them.

“Rex is such an open-minded guy, a really good person,” said the player, who asked not to be identified, fearing repercussions from the Bills. “But the fact he could back someone as closed-minded as Trump genuinely shocked me.” The player, who is black, emphasized that teammates’ frustration with their coach’s public endorsement was not universal. But in private discussions, he said, “Some of the African-American players on the team weren’t happy about Rex doing that.”

Indeed, said another black player on the Bills who requested anonymity to speak freely about tensions swirling with a combination of protests led by Colin Kaepernick and a combustible candidate: “I see Trump as someone who is hostile to people of color, and the fact that Rex supports him made me look at him completely differently, and not in a positive way.”

What’s interesting, although predictable perhaps, was the reaction of a particular player on the team, Richie Incognito. “I think that he can help this nation get back to a world superpower,” Incognito told B/R’s Tyler Dunne. “Where I think he could help is putting us first again and having that—it’s my mentality, too—having that tough attitude where you put America first and everyone’s thinking we’re the greatest nation in the world. Don’t mess with America. That toughness is where I identify with him.”

Incognito, a Caucasian, was suspended from his former team, the Miami Dolphins, after being identified as one of three harassers of a black teammate, Jonathan Martin, who asked to leave the team. It appears that Incognito’s bullying of Martin was incessant and racist, and included members of Martin’s family.

In the end, those who oppose Trump have had to come to grips with reality.

Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, said in this article that we need to accept and then take action, not just complain.

Listen, Donald Trump is going to be fine, all right, as president. That’s something I never thought I’d have to say, honestly. But at the end of the day he will be because I just believe America overall works. There’s a Congress and a Senate and it’s gonna work out. But if you don’t like it, you have two years from now to change it. Not (to change the) president, but you can change the Congress and you can change the Senate. So if you don’t like it, change it. And you change it by either running for office or voting… Don’t get mad — go do something.

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Twenty-six sports were recommended as new additions to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As many of you now know, Tokyo2020 and the IOC selected five new competitions: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.

But there were others recommended that I was either surprised about or unfamiliar with. I’ve created a list below of all the “sports” that were considered officially by Tokyo2020 for the next Summer Games. I took the liberty to make sense of them by organizing them into four categories, which you could most certainly dispute.

sports-nominated-for-tokyo2020

The Olympics are, in a way, an endorsement of the international relevance of an organized sport or gaming activity. This year, there was a conscious emphasis to increase the youth following, so skateboarding (roller sports), sports climbing and surfing were added.

Baseball and softball were actually Olympic competitions from 1992 to 2008, so it probably was not a difficult decision with the Olympics returning to Asia, where baseball is very popular. However, tug of war, which was an Olympic competition from 1900 to 1920, did not make the cut.

I was faintly familiar with Netball, which is popular in Singapore where I lived a couple of years. It is a derivative of basketball, played mainly by women. But I was not familiar with Korfball, which originated in the Netherlands and is similar to basketball, but certainly not the same. First, the teams are composed of both 4 men and 4 women. Second, you can score from all angles around the basket. Third, there is no dribbling, and fourth, you can’t shoot the ball if someone is defending you. Watch this primer for details.

Orienteering is new to me, but then again, I was never in the Boy Scouts. Orienteering is a category of events that require the use of navigational skills, primarily with the use of a map and compass. Most are on foot, but some are under water, or in cars or boats. Think The Amazing Race, without all the cameras. The video gives you an idea of what this activity is like.

DanceSport is essentially competitive ballroom dancing, which is popular in Japan. The 2004 movie “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jeffifer Lopex is a re-make of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name. A film that you may know that focuses on the competitive side of dance (with a smattering of American football) is “Silver Linings Playbook” with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

And then there’s Bridge and Chess, what most people refer to as games as opposed to sports. I used to play chess a lot, since I grew up in the days of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. And while I won second place in a chess tournament when I was 13, I would never experience the mentally and physically draining levels of tension that world-class chess masters go through. Still, is it a sport?

Does it matter?

roys-chess-trophy
The second-place chess trophy I won at a competition at the Manhattan Chess Club when I was 13 years old. (If you must know, there were only three competitors.)
nina-ponomareva-rome
Nina Ponomareva in Rome.

In the midst of the Cold War, the Soviet Union were finally invited to the Summer Olympic Games. In 1952, with a will to establish the superiority of their system through sport, the Soviets garnered 71 total medals, including 22 golds, to finish second in the medals race.

The first gold went to Nina Ponomareva, who won the women’s discus throw, and glory for her country, setting an Olympic record as well. “Only after I had felt a heavy golden circle in my hand, I realized what happened. I am the first Soviet Olympic Champion, you know, the first record-holder of the 15th Olympiad…Tears were stinging my eyes. How happy I was!

She would go on to win bronze in Melbourne in 1956, and then gold again at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. That’s an impressive track record. Unfortunately, when Ponomareva passed away in August, she was remembered for something else.

In 1956, prior to the Melbourne Games, the Soviets were invited to a bilateral track and field meet between Great Britain and the Soviet Union in London. Ponomareva stepped into a C&A Modes, which The New York Times informed me was a low-priced clothing store on Oxford Street, and was said to have shoplifted. According to the Herald Scotland, Ponomareva was “arrested on charges of shoplifting four feather hats (white, mauve, black, and yellow) plus a red woolen one, costing a total of £1.65.”

nina-ponomareva-helsinki
Nina Ponomareva in Helsinki.

When the team manager Konstatin Krupin heard of the arrest this doctor’s wife, teacher and 27-year-old mother, he pulled his team from the competition with Britain. The Bolshoi Ballet, which was headed to London, threatened to cancel their trip if British authorities did not retract the arrest and apologize. The UK Ambassador was summoned to the Kremlin for a good tongue lashing.

Forty four days after the arrest, Ponomareva came out of hiding in the Soviet Embassy. She was found guilty of shoplifting in court and asked to pay three guineas in costs. After that, she went straight to the harbor and got on a ship back home. Later that year, she failed to defend her Olympic championship in Melbourne (finishing third), but rebounded for gold four years later.

It is the legacy of the five hats that lived on beyond her golden glory. According to this obituary in The New York Times, Ponomareva’s name was cited during a debate on Britain’s actions during the Suez Crisis in the House of Commons. Labour member had this to say about the leading party’s foreign policy. “If the (Suez) Canal is vital to us, we take it,” he said. “This is the morality of Nina Ponomareva – ‘I like your hat, I will have it.'”

Julius Yego and his only Javelin Throw
Yego’s first and only throw at the Rio Olympics

 

He had won gold in the 2015 Beijing World Championships, so YouTube Man was expected to compete for gold in Rio.

His first throw was strong 88.24 meters. But quite unexpectedly, that would be Julius Yego’s last throw. While it is still unclear what happened, Yego severely injured his ankle and was carted off in tears. Instead of attempting to throw over 90 meters, which he did in Beijing, the Kenyan had to watch from the stands as German Thomas Rohler managed a throw of 90.3 meters. Still, amazingly, his first throw was good enough for silver.

One could only imagine the pain of inactivity was greater than the pain in the ankle. Yego promised he would be back though. “It was that painful, but I thank God it not serious as I thought! I am going to be back stronger guys, love you all my fans wherever you are. Your tremendous support can never go unnoticed! You always cheer me up even in hard times! God bless you all.

Yego was a favorite to win gold, which is amazing if you consider his story – a teenager from a farmer’s family who liked throwing a javelin so much he learned how to do it on the internet.

Way back in 2000, Thomas Friedman wrote the seminal book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. He posited that globalization, particularly the pace of global commerce was occurring due to three factors: the democratization of technology, the democratization of finance and the democratization of information.

In reference to the last factor, the democratization of information, Friedman swooned at the thought of a future pioneered by the likes of Netscape, and its gateway browser to the internet, and the promise of high-speed broadband. “Never before in the history of the world have so many people been able to learn about so many other people’s lives, products and ideas,” wrote Friedman.

Only a few years after Friedman published that book, a school boy named Julius Yego of Kenya got hooked on the javelin throw watching his fellow primary school students send their wooden javelins flying, and was inspired by his brother who was pretty good at the discipline.

But he did not have the resources, nor were there any coaches at his school. In 2009, believing he had a chance to become a world-class thrower, he was frustrated that he could not get the help he needed. That’s when he turned to YouTube. “Nobody was there for me to see if I was doing well or not, so I went to the cybercafe,” he told CNN.

He would watch champions Jan Zelezny and Andreas Thorkidsen, examining their technique, and learning the right ways to train to thrown a two-and-a-half meter spear nearly the length of a football pitch.

In 2010, the self-taught Yego won bronze at his first international tournament at the African Championships in Nairobi, throwing the javelin 74.51 meters. Finally gaining visibility, Yego got some support, earning a scholarship to train in Finland for two weeks in the cold of winter of 2011. There he met leading javelin coach, Petteri Piironen, who saw potential in Yego, who was then reaching distances of around 78 meters. Yego visited Piironen again for three months in the run-up to the London Games, where he finished 12th.

Petteri Piironen and Julius Yego
Petteri Piironen and Julius Yego

While he continues to seek advice from Piironen, Yego continued to self coach, and also to progress, winning championships at The Commonwealth Games, African Championships in 2014, and the World Championships in 2015.

In a CNN interview, the javelin world champion recalled in 2011, when he found success at the All Africa Games, “people wanted to talk to his coach, to know what I did before the competitions, the championships. By then seriously I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t go with a coach. They asked me, ‘Who is your coach,’ and then I told them, ‘YouTube’.”

Fiji wins gold

Rugby Sevens can be fast and furious. But the first seven minutes of the Rugby Sevens final at the 2016 Rio Olympics was much faster and more furious than Team GB could have ever have wanted.

In 55 seconds, Fiji’s scored its first try. Two and a half minutes later, Fiji got its second, and suddenly were up 12-0. A few minutes later, they’re up 17-0. They would race to a 27-0 lead at the end of the 10-minute first half, and go on to finish off Great Britain 43-7, making the first Rugby Sevens debut at the Olympics a memorable one.

For people like me, rugby is an unknown. Born in New York City, my sports mindshare was filled to capacity with MLB baseball, NFL football, NBA basketball and NHL hockey. The New York area alone has 10 professional sports teams in those four sports domains.

With so much happening in sports in the Big Apple, I personally have little bandwidth for college sports, let alone soccer, rugby, or cricket. But every four years at the Olympics, I get to increase my sports acumen and enjoy excellence at the highest levels in other sporting disciplines. I also learned that Fiji, despite the fact that the island nation had never won a medal in the Olympics, was expected to win gold at Rio.

Sure, Fiji is a very strong team. They have won the Hong Kong Sevens international tournament more times than another country since its inception in 1976 – twelve times – and were the reigning World Rugby Seven Series champions. And yet, Fijians and the Fiji team understood that the Olympics put them under the microscope of the entire world, observed by both super fan and casual fan alike.

Fijians Celebrate

As quoted in this South China Morning Post article, the British coach of the Fiji Rugby Sevens team, Ben Ryan, has seen the passion Fiji citizens have for their rugby. “I can have an hour drive to work and see 50 villages all playing rugby, it’s the passion, it’s the national sport, the islands won’t be having parties in sporadic parts of the country, it will be all parts of the country in every village across 350 islands.”

But like an idea whose time has come, Fiji fulfilled the dreams of a nation. “It’s history in the making, first gold medal in the Olympics and we’re all proud to be Fijians,” said Fiji prime minister, Frank Bainimarama. “They’re all celebrating [in Fiji] – in fact they’ve been celebrating for the last three days.”

In the same article, Fiji captain, Osea Lolinisau, was trying to come to grips with reality. “It’s a massive achievement to get a first medal for your country – I told the boys on the podium, ‘Is this really happening, are we really gold medal winners? “We’ll probably wake up tomorrow, it will dawn on us – this achievement will be part of our history back home.”

Watch here for the match.

Weverton celebrates with Neymar
Brazilian goaltender Weverton rushes to celebrate with teammate Neymar.

Neymar knocked in the winning goal, securing Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal in its religion of soccer. But it was Weverton the goalie who arguably won the match for the Seleção, with his lunge to the left and save of Germany’s Nils Petersen’s penalty kick in the last moments of the Olympic finals.

Surprisingly, Weverton wasn’t even on the team five days prior to the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics. How did he get on the team, and find himself in the most intense moment, inside the pressure cooker of Maracanã Stadium, during Brazil’s most important sporting event of their Olympic Games?

To be blunt, Weverton was lucky. Three times, circumstances conspired to change his fate dramatically.

One of the world’s most prestigious football tournaments, the Copa América, is held in South America pitting the best of Latin America, with nations from North America and Asia. Unfortunately, Brazil had been going through a funk, and the team’s performance at Copa América in June was poor – so poor that team manager Dunga got the sack, a little less than 2 months before the start of the Rio Olympics. In a state of uncertainty and flux, Rogério Micale was appointed coach of the Brazilian squad that would assemble for the Olympics. While Dunga did not appear to consider Weverton for his Olympic squad, apparently Micale did.

The second stroke of luck was an injury. Micale had Fernando Prass as his starting goalkeeper. Prass, at the age of 37, was having a fantastic year leading his team, Palmeiras, to the top of the Brazilian first division. On July 25, 11 days before the start of the Rio Olympics, Prass injured his right elbow. He was expected to make it back to the pitch on August 1, but his injury didn’t get better fast enough to satisfy Micale.

The third circumstance that bent the heavens in Weverton’s direction was distance. Micale’s first alternative to Prass was Diego Alves, the goalkeeper for Spanish club Valencia CF. But Alves was not in Brazil, and with precious few days left before the start of the Summer Games, Micale needed someone in Brazil to begin preparations right away. That’s when he decided to place a phone call to the captain and goalkeeper for Atlético Paranaense, a professional football club in Curitiba, Brazil. His name was Weverton, and he was getting off the plane returning from this team’s loss to Sport Recife the night before.

Weverton makes the save
Weverton stops Germany’s penalty kick.

That phone call would drastically change his life. Coach Micale wanted Weverton, who at the age of 28 had never been selected for the national team, to join the Brazilian national team for the Olympics. Not only that, with the start of the Olympics only five days away, Micale wanted Weverton minding the nets as the starter.

How would Weverton Pereira da Silva do? Through the preliminary games, the knockout quarterfinals and semifinals – through five consecutive Olympic matches, Brazil and the newfound goalie did not give up a single goal. It took nearly 60 minutes into Brazil’s sixth match before Weverton gave up a score, a strike hit so sharply by Maximilian Meyer of Germany that no goalie would have had a chance. In other words, Weverton had already paid back the faith Micale had invested in Weverton. But it was at the very end of the finals, on that fateful kick by Petersen, when Micale’s investment paid dividends.

Weverton, the accidental Olympian, saved the day, the match and quite possibly, the Olympics for Brazil.

US Women's soccer team 2016

292 women will represent the United States at the Rio Olympics. That is more than the 263 men on the US team, and more than the total team rosters of 196 of the 206 other nations competing in Rio.

Ever since the United States passed a law (Title IX)  in 1972 barring sex discrimination in education programs receiving funds from the federal government, girls have been able to develop their athletic skills to the point where US women have become dominant in team sports.

Before women’s softball was removed from the list of Olympic sports, US women had won three of the four gold medals from 1996 to 2008. The US Women’s basketball team has won 7 of the past 8 Olympic championships, including the past 5. The US Women’s soccer team has won 4 of the 5 Olympic competitions ever held, including the last 3.

The US women’s basketball team over the past five Olympics are 41-0. With WNBA stars Brittney Griner, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi on the team, it is likely, as NPR put it, that the toughest challenge they will face is in their intersquad scrimmages.

us women's basketball team.png
(L-R) Elena Delle Donne, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, and Sue Bird

The women’s teams from Australia and Spain will be the toughest competition for the US as those teams have players with considerable international experience. But no one is expecting anything less than gold for the female cagers from America.

The US women’s soccer team is also a near lock on gold in Rio. Not only are they Olympic champions, they are also world champions after their 5-2 destruction of rivals Japan in the 2015 FIFA World Cup. On top of that, the Olympics feature only 12 teams, half of those which compete in a World Cup. Thus, powers like Japan and Norway did not make the cut. However, Germany will be on the Brazilian pitches, and will post the biggest threat to the US. Rivals France and Brazil will also be looking to depose the US.

With stars Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn, the US Women’s soccer team is expected to romp to its fourth straight gold medal.

  1. Have you ever exercised?
  2. Have you ever pushed yourself to exhaustion in a workout?
  3. Have you ever pushed yourself to exhaustion, want to stop, but push yourself even further?
  4. Have you ever pushed yourself to the point where your body rebels, and whatever liquids or solids are in your stomach shoot up your system and out your mouth in an acidy expulsion?

I can say yes, to the first two questions, but for Olympians, the answer to #4 is yes, on a daily basis.

exhaustion 2

Watch the above video to see how hard Team USA Olympians push themselves in the quest for gold and glory.

  • I get to the pool by about five o’clock, do about 45 minutes of prep work, and then I’m in the water at 6am. We see the sunrise in the morning when we’re already halfway through our practice. Natalie Coughlin, swimmer and 12-time Olympic medalist
  • It’s all about training when no one is watching. It’s all about training on holidays because I know most people aren’t training when they’re on holidays. Carli Lloyd, two-time gold medalist in soccer
  • Nothing is….”Oh this is fun! I enjoy the pain, the lactic acid, the burn that flows through my veins!” None of that. You don’t want any of that.Dawn Harper-Nelson, two-time 100-meter Olympic medalist
Washington Post Video Zika Virus
Click on image to watch video on how an explanation of how the Zika Virus is transmitted.

 

We’re a little less than a month away and the intense fear of the zika-virus has diminished over the past few months. Part of the reason is that mosquitos, which transmit the zika-virus to humans, flourish in hot weather, and Brazil is in its cool season in August.

Still, athletes and National Olympic committees are taking measures where they can. I’ve noted three basic strategies: protection, abstention and just-in-case measures.

  • Protection: The US Olympic Committee will be issuing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to their athletes, as well as a six-months supply of condoms post Olympics as the virus can be transmitted through sexual fluids. The Australian Olympic Committee is providing their athletes with condoms specially treated with an anti-viral coating. The Korean Olympic Committee is not only providing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to their athletes, they are infusing the fabrics with mosquito repellent. To ensure everyone in Rio has mosquito repellent, Rio’s Olympic Organizing Committee just signed up SC Johnson as an official Olympic sponsor, which means that thousands of bottoles of the mosquito repellent OFF! Will be distributed to athletes, staff and volunteers.
  • Abstention: Despite calls by a prominent Canadian doctor to postpone the Rio Olympics, the World Health Organization did not endorse a ban, although they are strongly recommending pregnant women from travelling to zika-infested areas like Brazil, as well as to abstain from sex for at least 8 weeks after returning from zika-infested areas. If they do not experience such symptoms as rash, fever, arthralgia, myalgia or conjunctivitis after 8 weeks, they are likely uninfected. A handful of athletes have withdrawn for the Rio Olympics citing concerns regarding the zika virus, including the top four golfers in the world: #1 Jason Day of Australia, #2 Dustin Johnson of the US, #3 Jordan Spieth of the US, and #4 Rory McIlroy of Ireland, among others.
  • Just-in-Case Sperm Freezing: 2012 London Games long jump gold medalist Greg Rutherford initially expressed the strong possibility of not going to the Rio Games. But now that Rutherford has frozen his sperm, and has ensured the possibility of having children without the risk of zika-infection, he is now re-considering his participation. Spanish NBA star, Pau Gasol, is also considering freezing his sperm in order to have a greater of peace of mind if going to Rio.
Rio Temperatures
Average temperatures in Rio de Janeiro over 12 months

In the end, for the majority of the athletes, many athletes are going because the cool weather means a significant drop in risk. According to the New York Times, three-time gold medalist beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings already participated in a tournament in Rio in March and her precautions were effective. “I took my essential oils, I’m going to bring my Honest bug repellent, and I escaped all mosquito bites until the very last day. And I came home, and I didn’t get Zika.”

With the Rio Olympics in August in the middle of the Brazilian winter, she feels confident that the zika virus will not be a threat.

What a lot of athletes may also privately admit is that they are not going to let a tiny mosquito deny them a chance at glory after years of grueling training.

Korean Rio Archery Team
South Korea’s Archery Team for the Rio Olympics Korea’s team comprises recurve men Kim Woojin, Ku Bonchan and Lee Seungyun and recurve women Choi Misun, Ki Bo Bae and Chang Hye Jin.
Nothing like an Olympic Games to get a nation to focus. And when South Korea was awarded the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, the National Olympic Committee and Korean Government drew a bullseye on archery.

Over the past 7 Summer Games, South Korea has won 18 of 28 possible gold medals, whether individual or team, men or women. In fact, the South Korean women’s team has won gold at every Olympics since 1988.

This is not luck. This is a significant investment in identifying archery talent early, and developing the strongest archers so that the pool competing for international competition is deep. This is how the BBC explained the South Korean archery talent machinery.

Koreans are introduced to archery at primary school, with talented children receiving up to two hours training a day. The less able are then weeded out at middle school, high school and university level until the very best are hired as adults by the company teams run by organisations such as car manufacturer Hyundai.

Korean Kids Archery

Approximately 30% of the Korean Archery Association’s (KAA) budget comes from the country’s Olympic Committee, but the main financial strength of the system is from these 33 company teams who provide a wage and a pension to archers employed solely to compete for them.

Here’s how a former South Korean archer explains the intense competition that yields world champions.

With so many top class archers around (back in 2004, a non-Korean archer who was ranked 5th in the world had the same competition record as a Korean archer placed 90th in the country), no one is guaranteed a victory or a spot in the national team. Many former gold medalists have been struck off a year or so later because others (and some of them newbies) have surpassed them in ranks. It’s a sport where seniority really doesn’t matter at the end of the day, allowing for true competitive spirit to flourish.

Apparently, the sport of archery is expensive – a single arrow costing around $40. And because archery in South Korea is so well funded, their archers can spend all their time sharpening their craft. Again, the former archer describes this world-class level of dedication.

The sport is also very well-funded, and athletes really get to focus on what they do best. This means that they practise like machines. The 2012 London Olympics women’s team said that they shoot 500 arrows a day. As far as I know, Ki shoots with a 40 pound bow. Obviously I’m a bad point of comparison, but I am pretty much done for the day after shooting a double Portsmouth (120 arrows) with a 34 pound bow.

As it turns out, only one person from the 2012 London Games will be returning to the 2016 Games, Ki Bo-bae, who won gold in the women’s individual and women’s team competitions. The rest, you can bet are the best of the Korean up and comers.

Any sure bets for the Rio Olympics? South Korean archery is looking like a bullseye.

Ki bo-bae portrait
Ki Bo-bae at the London Summer Games