For an athlete nicknamed Pishiri, or ‘sleepy person’, Yun Mi Jin’s recollection of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games is only fitting.
“It was like a dream, as if it were a present from God,” the Korean archer said recently of her Olympic title, won 20 years ago. “I felt like I was flying.”
Yun was just 17 years old when she and her Korean teammates arrived in Australia. At the time, simply making the national team was an accomplishment. Asian Games Champion Kim Jo Sun and World Archery Champion Lee Eun–Kyung were left off of the Olympic roster. But Yun made the cut, having been on the national team for just a year before being selected for Sydney.
Kim Soo–Nyung, one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, and Kim Nam–Soon joined Yun to fill out the Korean roster.
On her way to the title, Yun would defeat them both, dispatching Soo-Nyung in the semifinals and Nam–Soon in the final, winning the Olympic gold medal by a single point, 107–106.
“Being an Olympic medallist and being a member of the Korean national team are quite similar,” Yun said. “It’s a long process to make it. You have to shoot well, of course, but you also have to be lucky.”
Soo–Nyung eventually won bronze. The 1988 gold medallist defeated Choe Ok Sil of North Korea in the third-place match, resulting in a clean sweep of the individual podium for the second time in archery’s modern era. Three Korean women also accomplished the feat in 1988.
It was also the fourth Games running in which a recurve woman’s team from Korea won gold. (A perfect record that they’ve since extended a further four times.)
“I was really delighted that I stood on the podium with my colleagues,” Yun said. “The colour of the medal made me happy, but the two medals made me happier.”
Like Yun, Soo–Nyung was 17 when she won gold in 1988. But she couldn’t turn back the clock, as Yun beat her in the 12–arrow semifinal, 107–105.
“Soo–Nyung was my role model,” Yun said. “I’ve always respected her. She’s a good role model to younger archers still.”
Two days later, the Korean women blazed through the team competition, defeating the United States and Germany before beating Ukraine to secure another gold medal.
Korea scored an Olympic–record 252 in the quarterfinals against the USA, back when matches were decided by 27-arrows and straight score. The women won each match by at least 12 points.
The team victory cemented Yun Mi Jin’s place in history, having won an individual and team Olympic archery gold in the same event. Only four previous women – all Korean – could make that claim.
Yun would later win the 2003 World Archery Championships in New York as well.
Yun celebrated her returning champion status at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games by calling for a unified Korea.
“At the opening ceremony it felt like two countries had become one,” she is reported to have told the press. “I hope we will all be wearing the same uniform next time.”
In Greece, she added a second team gold but was knocked out by Yuan Shu-Chi in the individual quarterfinals,
Until the format was moved to the set system in 2012, Yun held the Olympic record for the 18-arrow match at 173 out of a possible 180 points. The former world number one set the record in Sydney when she defeated Alison Williamson of Great Britain in the third round – and then matches the score in Athens.
“My life was so different after that Olympic title,” she said. “It was a sudden change, so puzzled and awkward. Before, I was just an ordinary girl. But after Sydney, so many people gave an eye to me and treated me more nicely.”
The pressures that accompany competing on an Olympic stage proved challenging for Yun. Some of the details remain vivid to this day. Still, she remembers the cameras shuttering with every shot in the periphery of her vision – and the uncanny feeling of watching herself on a big screen.
“I was really nervous, but I also enjoyed the moment,” she said.
The 20–year anniversary of the Sydney Olympics has inspired an inevitable moment for reflection. Yun plans to have a small celebration with her family but restrictions caused by the pandemic will keep things modest.
Now aged 37, she competed for much of the past decade – including most recently as a member of the Hyundai Department Store pro-team on the Indoor Archery World Series in 2019 – and is now a coach, sharing her experiences as an athlete with the next generation of archers. She has also taken up shooting compound.
“Archery is a battle with oneself,” Yun said. “When I was first selected to the national team, there were two kinds of archers: one was a natural archer, the other was one who practised constantly.”
“Looking back,” she continued, “I was the second one. “Without working hard, I could not have produced any results.”
The results, however, speak for themselves. Yun will forever be remembered for her performance in Sydney. It isn’t just a dream. It’s a reality.
“The Olympics were more than I ever could have expected,” she said. “It was big – really big. The biggest glory of my life.”