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World record? Yes. Blind? No

Im Dong-hyun led South Korea to a bronze medal in the team event on Saturday and somehow managed to leave behind more questions than answers about exactly how impaired his eyesight is.

other Updated: Jul 30, 2012 01:30 IST

The headline sounded too good to be true: "Legally Blind Archer Smashes World Record." Turns out it almost certainly was.

A day after setting the first world records of the 2012 Games, Im Dong-hyun led South Korea to a bronze medal in the team event Saturday and somehow managed to leave behind more questions than answers about exactly how impaired his eyesight is.

At one moment, speaking through an interpreter, Im described himself as farsighted and said the colours in the target “almost 77 yards away” appeared “blurry, not bad ... like a drop of paint in the water.”

A moment later, he said he didn't need glasses to drive or read, unless he was tired, describing his problem as “old man's eyes”.

At yet another, he said the vision in his left eye was 20 percent of a normal sighted person and 30 percent in the right.

Not long after that, his coach, Oh Seon-Tek, raised that number to 60 percent and laughed at the notion that his star pupil had any problem seeing the target at all.

Finally, after Im was asked directly a second time whether he was legally blind, he grinned widely and replied, "It's really a matter of common sense. If I were legally blind, do you really think I could participate in the Olympics? I'd rather participate in the Paralympics. There, I'd have a much grea-ter chance to win a gold.”

Why Im has been described as legally blind in published reports dating back several years is a matter of some conjecture.

A South Korean journalist who knows him well said Im occasionally passes close by without so much as a hint of recognition and that the various answers to questions on the topic may have more to do with the stigma attached to disabilities than his actual condition.

What is clear is that no matter the extent of Im's visual impairment, it hasn't affected his ability to compete.

Officials of several federations suggested it might even be an advantage in a sport where some competitors sometimes focus too long and too intently on the target and freeze up, rather than rely on biomechanics or muscle memory to help them decide when to release the arrow.

Called “target panic”, it's archery's equivalent of the putting “yips” that bede-vil even top-flight golfers.

That, however, has never been a problem with Im, who arrived at the Olympics as the No. 2-ranked archer in the world.

Visually impaired archers are not all that uncommon in the sport. What thrust Im into the spotlight, and kept him there, are his consistently world-class results.