What would make a six-time Olympic medalist move halfway across the world for an archery coaching gig?
Perhaps a chance to coach royalty.
Kim Soo-Nyung of South Korea has been named “Athlete of the Century” by the World Archery Federation (WA) and is widely regarded as one of the greatest archers ever to compete. She’s also moving to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to help hone the archery skills of two princesses, possibly the granddaughters of King Abdulla bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Though she has a reputation for great kindness on and off the archery field, Kim’s game face is legendary. While shooting for the Korean Olympic Archery Team at the 1988 Olympic Games, she clinched an individual gold medal and a team gold in Seoul, at age 17. In case anyone thought homefield advantage scored her those medals, Kim returned to the Olympic podium in 1992 and 2000, winning gold and silver in Barcelona, and gold and bronze in Sydney.
So, what about her coaching chops? Kim reportedly came to the United States in 2012 to increase her compound-bow knowledge under the tutelage of renowned archery coach Mel Nichols. Soon after, the Korean women’s compound team began dominating international tournaments. Coincidence? Possibly.
It’s been said that Kim desires to coach, so helping two princesses reach an Olympic dream sounds like an assignment befitting the world’s best archer. First, though, Kim must overcome the fact that Saudi Arabia does not yet have a women’s national archery team.
In 2012, Saudi women were first allowed to participate in Olympic events – judo and track. This came after intense pressure from the international community, and the International Olympic Committee made it clear the kingdom faced possible exclusion from London’s 2012 Games, according to the BBC. King Abdulla has reportedly taken a more progressive stance on female participation in sports, so perhaps that change began at home with the princesses.
“The goal is to send the princesses to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics as representatives of the Saudi Arabian national team,” Kim stated, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quoted South Korean media. “It won’t be easy, but I accepted the offer, thinking it’s a worthwhile challenge.”
Kim is not the first archery notable to take a coaching assignment in Saudi Arabia. Five-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig – perhaps best known for coaching Jennifer Lawrence for her Katniss Everdeen role in “The Hunger Games” – took a brief coaching stint in the kingdom in 2012. Specifics of the assignment were not made public. Likewise, Soo Nyung declined an interview request for this article, saying she wanted to protect the princesses’ privacy.
Despite Kim’s golden record as an archer, it remains to be seen whether her coaching can turn a country without a world archery ranking into an Olympic qualifier. But if anyone can hit such a challenging target, surely it’s the sport’s Athlete of the Century.