RIO DE JANEIRO – It ended swiftly, and when it was over, Jake Kaminski smiled, turned to the winning Korean team and bowed three times in a show of awe and respect for the Olympic team archery champions.
“You saw Wayne’s World, right?” Kaminski said after the U.S. men took silver for a second straight Games. “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! It was one of those bows. And bowing is big in their culture.”
Kaminski, the pride of Elma, also shook both hands of the three Korean victors after the gold-medal match. He said the double handshake is also a sign of respect in South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea.
What else could Kaminski and his teammates, Brady Ellison and Zach Garrett, have done? They were worthy adversaries, of course. They proved that by making the final. But they had never run into an opponent so utterly prepared to prove itself on the sport’s biggest stage.
At some point, Kaminski must have felt like throwing on a hockey mask and pads, dashing 70 meters toward the targets at the opposite end of the Sambodormo archery field and swatting away Korea’s arrows before they hit the bull’s-eye.
Otherwise, they were toast. Korea, the top-ranked team in the world, validated its reputation and made up for a loss to the Americans in the semifinals in London with a staggering display of accuracy under pressure.
The Koreans hit six straight bull’s-eyes (worth 10 points) to win the first set and never let up, sweeping the U.S. men in three sets to win gold. In the new scoring format, teams compete in four sets, each worth two points. Korea won six points, rendering a fourth set unnecessary.
They shot sets of 60, 58 and 59 points, meaning they missed the bull’s-eye on only three of collective 18 arrows and scored a nine on the other three. The Americans shot well enough to win on most days. They hit three perfect 10s to start the second set. But Korea answered with three 10s to win the set.
Four years ago, Kaminski needed to lift the spirits of his teammates when the U.S. took silver, losing to Italy on the final arrow. They felt they were worthy of gold that day. This time, they were philosophical in defeat.
“Today is much different,” said Kaminski, whose performance improved as the matches grew bigger. “We shot well, but we just got outclassed by the Koreans. A match like that had never been shot before. That would have been a world record if world records still existed in that format.
“To really, really put in our hard training to good use and perform like we did – better than London, in my opinion – and still come through with a medal, I couldn’t be happier. It wasn’t a disappointment this time.”
Kaminski says he keeps competing because it makes him feel alive. He looked it Saturday, smiling through the competition and soaking in the moment later. He stopped to engage with U.S. fans near the mixed zone, took a selfie with his silver medal, engaged with volunteers.
“I totally feel alive,” he said. “Still coming away with a medal, I’m not upset about it at all. Do I still want gold? Of course. I’m a human. You get driven by certain machines, that’s for sure. But I couldn’t be happier.”
He got off to a slow start, shooting an eight early in the quarterfinals against Indonesia. After two sets, it was tied. It seemed the U.S. could be victims of a huge upset. Kaminski’s coach, Korean-born Kisik Lee, came over and pounded him on the shoulders and told him he believed in him.
Kaminski, the leadoff man, hit a bull’s-eye on his next arrow; the Americans never looked back. In the semifinals, he shot 10s on his final two arrows as the U.S. swept aside China to reach the finals. He had done the same thing in London, lifting his game in an upset of Korea in the semis.
He considered this the best U.S. team ever and was excited to see how it did in Rio. The problem was, the Koreans were better, too. The talent in Korea is so deep, the whole three-man team was new. Im Dong-Hyun, the legally blind archer who set a world record in qualifying in 2012, didn’t make it.
Kaminski said the U.S. thrives in wind. But on a hot, windless day in Rio, the Koreans were in their element. Kim Woojin, ranked No. 1 in the world, was on his game. Ku Bonchan, the world No. 2, shot six perfect 10s and later said he hadn’t even been aware of it.
“I did not know I had perfect score,” Ku said, “because during the match I only focus on each individual shot.”
It showed. In their three team matches Saturday, the Koreans didn’t lose a single set point. Ku, Kim and Lee averaged 58 points a set out of 60. There couldn’t have been a more dominant performance over the two days.
Maybe a goalie wouldn’t have helped.
All in all, it was a terrific day for archery. The Americans were gracious in defeat, the Koreans in victory. Before climbing atop the medal stand, they walked around to the front of the podium and congratulated the Americans and the Australians, who won bronze, their first team archery medal ever.
“Having fun and enjoying the moment definitely takes away from the pressure,” said Kaminski, who has a way of rising above it. “It distracts from the potential of ‘Oh, this is for a medal.’ ”
Medals in consecutive Olympics is something to be proud of. As dusk settled over the “Marvelous City,” with the Christ the Redeemer statue visible in the distance, the U.S. archers bowed to receive their silver medals and seemed like winners.
Kaminski has settled for silver in two Olympics now and honored himself and his hometown both times, celebrating and dignifying the moment and the medal, rather than treating it like a loss.
He said his stepsister’s memory was with him. Last year, Elizabeth Diamond died of brain cancer. He also went through a divorce in 2015, so it was a rough year for him.
“This one is for me and Liz,” he said. “Despite all the hardship I’ve been through, I’m here again, in the same place, and I’ve done it by myself.”
Liz would be happy to know he’s in a good place. She once said Jake was destined for big things, that he was golden. She wasn’t talking about what hangs around his neck, but what he carries in his heart.