In a sport like archery that's all about accuracy, many would think strong eyesight would be required to do well. South Korean archer Im Dong-Hyun, 26, is proof those people are wrong. Im's eyesight has deteriorated to the point where he has 20/200 vision in his left eye, meaning he'd have to be 10 times as close to see something as someone with 20/20 vision; his right eye's 20/100 vision is also extremely poor. Im is considered legally blind and has a tough time reading a newspaper, but has already claimed two Olympic golds in team events in 2004 and 2008 and is favoured to win the individual archery competition in 2012. He also doesn't like suggestions that he's facing stiffer odds than anyone else, and that says a lot about what the real story is here.
"I don't have a stick, I don't have a blind dog," he said after a practice session at Lord's, where the archery competition will take place, on Wednesday. "It's unpleasant when people say I'm disabled. All this interest in my sight is not welcome."
What's remarkable is how Im has found a way to cope with being unable to clearly see the 122-centimetre archery target from the 70 metres he has to shoot from, and it doesn't involve glasses or corrective surgery. In fact, he says his attempts to shoot with glasses have been less successful. For him, it's not about seeing the specific details of the target, but rather interpreting the way the colours run together to figure out the placement of the bullseye.
"With my vision, when I look at the target, it looks as if different colour paints have been dropped in water," he continued. "The boundaries are not that clear and the lines between the colours are very blurred. ... When I look down the range at the target all I can do is try to distinguish between the different colours. If I couldn't see the colours, now that would be a problem."
There are some parallels between Im and that of Brian McKeever, the legally-blind Canadian cross-country skier who was expected to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2010 but was yanked from the 50-kilometre classical Olympic race at the last moment in favour of other athletes thought to be better medal hopes. (None of them medalled, but Devon Kershaw finished fifth; McKeever went on to win three golds in the Paralympics.
However, it's not like South Korea's somehow being more noble here than Canada was in 2010; they deserve plenty of credit for giving Im a shot even after his eyesight started to degrade, as some countries' sport federations would have laughed a legally-blind archer out before he proved what he could do, but he's shown with his performance that he's a deserving gold-medal favourite. Im may have worse vision than most of us, but he's one of the very best with a bow in the world; ultimately, that's why he's been chosen to compete in these Olympics. His vision issues make him a better story than most, but they don't make him any less of a capable athlete.
In fact, Im has already made a mark at the 2012 Olympics. On Friday morning, he set a new world record with a 72-arrow score of 699 points. Hew was also in the team shoot where South Korea broke the world record, scoring 2,087 points in 216 arrows.