Sometimes a failure embraced is more than a dip, but an actual disability. Yes, the disabled have their own celebration, the Paralympics, for their own athletic achievements, but some are performing in the main Games as well. The exploits of Oscar Pistorius have been well reported and it took a Court of Arbitration for Sport study to confirm that his disability wasn’t actually a competitive advantage.

Another disabled athlete for which there is no debate about any advantage is blind archer Im Dong-Hyn

  • “Im Dong-Hyun broke his own world record with 699 points for 72 arrows. Im, mind you, is legally blind and was ranked second in the world behind U.S. archer Brady Ellison going into the Games. Im has suffered from myopia all his life. He can see the colors on the target 70 meters away, but not much else. Corrective lenses make him uncomfortable, so he refuses to wear them while shooting. Going off of muscle memory has proven plenty effective for the two-time team gold medalist.”

His story reminded me of Eugen Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery”. He too described the dynamic duality between intensity and relaxation

  • “[The Zen master] drew his strong bow and invited me to step behind him and feel his arm muscles. They were indeed quite relaxed, as though they were doing no work at all… I cannot think back to those days without recalling, over and over again, how difficult I found it, in the beginning, to get my breathing to work out right. Though I breathed in technically the right way, whenever I tried to keep my arm and shoulder muscles relaxed while drawing the bow the muscles of my legs stiffened all the more violently. If I grimly resisted the tension `til I was gasping for breath, I could only do so by calling on the arm and shoulder muscles for aid. I then stood there immobilized˙like a statue, mocked the Master but tense, and my relaxedness was gone.”

I can’t help but wonder if his limited sight has allowed and even pushed him to become more attuned the flow of a great shot. Focused within on the shooting rather externally than on the shot. Whatever his advantage, I guess Dong-Hyun really is someone who could win with his eyes closed.

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