LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - To semiconductors, ships and smart phones, add archery coaches to the list of South Korea’s top exports.
The ‘must-have’ item for medal hunting archers at the 2012 London Games, Korean coaches have become a necessity rather than a luxury with the United States, Malaysia, Brazil and the Philippines among the countries paying for their expertise.
The clamour for their services is understandable — South Korean archers have won 30 Olympic medals, 16 of them gold, and hold every world record with the Olympic-style recurve bow.
Don Rabska was over the moon when Lee Ki-sik agreed to coach USA Archery from 2006.
Lee coached the formidable South Koreans to eight gold medals before blazing a trail to Australia where he guided Simon Fairweather to gold in 2000.
The South Korean’s biomechanical approach to the sport, coupled with his devotion to discipline and technique, did not initially sit well with some in USA Archery but scepticism was overcome and the results speak for themselves.
Brady Ellison is the world’s top ranked archer and favourite for the gold medal in London. The men’s team are also ranked first while the women have climbed to sixth.
The Korean influence is unmistakable.
“The Korean approach to archery is that they look at it like a martial art,” Rabska told Reuters at Lord’s Cricket Ground. “And they are one of the only countries in the world that do it like that, though others are starting to follow.
“First they spend months learning the proper stance. Then it’s months learning to raise one arm, then both arms for a couple of months.”
Rabska said South Korean archery students continued to practise the most basic elements until they had perfected the technique and biomechanics.
“Those kids have six months intensive training before they shoot their first arrow.”
The approach in the West is much more direct. And much less successful.
“What we often tend to do in the West is just stick a bow in their hand right away and then spend the rest of the time trying to break bad habits,” added Rabska, who coached and worked closely with Lee at USA Archery.
“You know, practise doesn’t make perfect. Practise makes permanent. The more you practise the wrong things, the more you lay on the hard drive and the harder it is to get rid of it.”
The Korean approach demands such sacrifice that it will not work with some athletes or sporting cultures. Some want immediate gratification in the form of medals or championships instead of long-term, long-lasting success.
Some countries were so desperate for the Korean archery magic dust they hired South Korean coaches — but from different sports, said Rabska.
“It’s unbelievable,” he laughed. “I won’t mention any team names but they are horrific as far as technique is concerned, with no understanding of the biomechanics of archery.
“It was like: ‘We need a Korean coach. Hey, there’s someone looking for a job from wrestling. Fantastic, we got a Korean coach!
“It’s no surprise but you won’t find any of those teams in London.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury