August 14, 2008 / 6:09 AM / 11 years ago

In land of archery, the "blind man" is king

BEIJING (Reuters) - That world champion Im Dong-hyun can even hit the target is a minor miracle. Not many Olympic archers are legally blind.

The South Korean has no idea where his arrow lands on the target, and from 70 meters away all he has to aim at is a blob of color.

“When I look down the range at the target all I can do is try to distinguish between the different colors,” the world number one told Reuters in an interview.

“If I couldn’t see the colors, now that would be a problem.”

Im’s eyesight is listed at 20/200 by the Korea Archery Federation, which basically means he can see at 20 feet what a person with perfect vision can see at 200 feet. That makes Im legally blind.

The 22-year-old relies on “feel” when he shoots and will not wear corrective glasses or contact lenses. Offers of free surgery to correct his eyesight have also been rejected.

“I’ve practiced using glasses before but actually it makes me feel less comfortable when I shoot,” he said.

“For me, seeing the target and not seeing the target doesn’t make any difference.”

Im, who made Time magazine’s list of 100 ‘Athletes to Watch’ in Beijing, became archery’s youngest male champion four years ago in Athens when South Korea won gold in the team competition.

He picked up his second Olympic gold medal in the team archery on Monday, is the hot favorite to win the individual title and holds the world record for 72 arrows (687).

In South Korea’s fiercely contested domestic tournaments, Im’s beaten opponents would joke they had just lost to the “blind guy”. Those slights served only to toughen his mental resolve.

American Richard “Butch” Johnson was surprised to learn he had been defeated by a “blind guy” in Beijing.

“I guess he would just aim at the fuzzy yellow thing,” he said.

Im has a relatively smooth draw to the gold medal match on Friday but his preparations for the Games suffered a massive setback when one of the limbs of his recurve bow broke just before leaving for the Olympics.

However, the South Korean coaching staff quickly found a replacement limb, tuned the bow to fit his body shape as best they could and let Im do the rest.

“I don’t feel any difference with it. I was prepared for anything.”

(Additional reporting by Park Ju-min in Seoul; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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