LONDON (Reuters) - Japan’s Ren Hayakawa wanted to do well against South Korean Ki Bo-bae in the last 16 of the London Olympics archery competition for many reasons, but their countries’ bitter ancient rivalry was not one of them.
Born ‘Um Hye-ryeon’ to South Korean parents in Anyang, south of Seoul, Hayakawa battled to break into the Korean national team for years. She was good, just not good enough to win a spot on a team that have won 13 of the last 14 Olympic women’s archery gold medals since 1984.
The standard line in the archery world is that it’s harder to get on the Korean national team than win an Olympic gold, such is the standard and depth of talent in the country.
With her mother having moved to Japan after remarrying, Hayakawa eventually decided that she would follow and in 2007 took up Japanese citizenship.
While many athletes have changed citizenship in search of sporting success, Hayakawa said her reasons for the decision were due to finance and family.
“I didn’t change my nationality solely for the archery career,” the 24-year-old said during the Games. “I needed to go to university in Japan to be with my sister and my mum.
“Nippon Sport Science University let me go there for my archery talent so I continued to do archery in Japan.”
Hayakawa’s sister Nami, who also represented Japan in archery at the Beijing Games, encouraged her to try out for the Olympic squad for London and to her surprise she won a place on the team with Kaori Kawanaka and Miki Kanie.
Finally she found success, winning Japan’s first medal in women’s archery on Sunday with the bronze in the team event.
On Thursday, however, she was given a sharp reminder of just how strong the Koreans are when she was easily beaten by world number two Ki Bo-bae.
The match over, Hayakawa hugged Ki warmly and gave a respectful bow to her coach. Her opponent’s identity had not weighed on Hayakawa’s mind, she said, but conceded nerves had been a factor.
“You get nervous before you face any opponent, not because of anyone special,” she said after Thursday’s loss at Lord’s cricket ground. “Korea are of course a very strong team ... and I hadn’t been playing well in practice so there was no pressure.”
Hayakawa has said she has never enjoyed archery as much since she moved to Japan, perhaps a reflection of the more relaxed training system and recreational focus there.
That style contrasts sharply with the South Korean approach, where the sport is taught like a martial art - heavily focused on mental and physical discipline.
“The Korean style is fairly strict,” she added. “The training is more by the rules, but the Japanese style is more individual. That means no team leaders or anything.”
It also means no gold medals.
Hayakawa, though, hopes their team bronze will create some momentum for the sport in Japan.
“Archery is not a very popular sport in Japan, we can start it only in high school. In other countries, such as Korea, they can start at an earlier age so maybe they are 16 and they have been doing archery for 10 years.
“Since we won a medal at the Olympic Games I hope this will help make archery more popular in Japan among children.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston