RIO DE JANEIRO: South Korea’s Chang Hye-jin stepped out of compatriot Ki Bo-bae’s shadow before fending off a brave challenge from German Lisa Unruh to claim the women’s individual archery gold medal at the Rio Olympics on Thursday.
The least fancied of three formidable Koreans in the draw, the 29-year-old Chang upset champion Ki in a nerve-jangling semi-final but ensured the title remained in South Korean hands for an eighth time in nine Olympics.
On a cool, blustery day at the Sambadrome, Chang stood firm in the title-decider, nailing two perfect scores of 10 in the decisive fourth set to close out the match 6-2 and send her country’s fans into a frenzy.
“After winning over Ki … I felt a lot of responsibility for South Korea, so I felt I should do my best to win this final,” said Chang, who also won the team title with Ki and Choi Mi-sun on Sunday.
Triple gold medalist Ki, favored to clinch back-to-back individual titles, was off her best but recovered to defeat Mexico’s Alejandra Valencia 6-4 in the bronze playoff.
Valencia had shaken up the tournament earlier by thrashing wayward world number one Choi 6-0 in the quarter-finals, leaving the Korean to weep in anguish as she was escorted from the arena by her coach.
That left South Korea’s proud record in Ki and Chang’s hands and the pair fought a thrilling duel for the right to protect the legacy.
As gusts of wind buffeted the terraces, Chang drew her final arrow needing an eight to topple Ki but hammered it into the innermost gold circle for 10 to close out their match 7-3.
In the final, Chang never wavered despite the most difficult of shooting conditions.
With the statue of Christ the Redeemer faintly visible on a mountain-top behind the targets, the devout Christian exhaled as her final arrow scored a winning nine before hugging her coach and parading a big South Korean flag.
“I always tend to leave everything in the hands of God who gave me my ability and am grateful for everything he has given me,” she said.
Unheralded Unruh celebrated Germany’s first individual medal in archery, a fine performance after being seeded 21st after the ranking round.
“I’m very pleasantly surprised, of course, I wanted to be in the top 10, but got the silver medal,” the 28-year-old Berliner said.
South Korea’s men will bid for the final gold in the men’s individual event on Friday and complete a sweep of all four archery titles.