Having snapped South Korea's 24-year winning streak with her women's individual gold medal, Chinese archer Zhang Juanjuan believes the sport's big moment in China is about to come.
"It would be no more than a daydream to make archery as popular as table tennis and volleyball, but with a gold medal in Beijing, it is within reach," said Zhang. "South Korea dominated the field for so many years because archery is a very popular sport among kids and they have a great grassroots foundation.
"South Korea is still a lot stronger than us overall, but as long as we have enough children playing it, we will have an opportunity to overcome them to become a major force in the sport."
Zhang's confidence is supported by the fact that Olympic gold medals have historically lifted unpopular sports into the spotlight. Volleyball became one of China's favorite sports in 1984 after the national women's team, led by Lang Ping, won gold at the Los Angeles Games. Table tennis and diving enjoyed similar booms in the 1990s.
The latest popular explosion occurred in 2004, when Li Ting and Sun Tiantian claimed women's doubles tennis gold at the Athens Games. Tennis, which some viewed as representing Western values and a "better life" and was wedged firmly at the bottom of the nation's sporting priorities, is now one of the most popular sports in the country.
Zhang, who beat three Koreans to win the title on Monday, insists it is now archery's turn.
"That gold medal can bring archery more media exposure and marketing opportunities," she said. "Hopefully our performance at the Games will give fans something to expect from the sport."
Despite its long history in China, archery is far from popular here. Half of the national team is part of the Xibo ethnic minority, a group of just 200,000 living in Heilongjiang province and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It is the only community that has inherited traditions of archery.
According to Chinese team manager Meng Fanai, the Chinese Archery Association has around 300 registered athletes. About 1,000 kids participate in archery more than once a week. Among them 500 receive professional training.
Young Chinese archers annually compete in two national tournaments and most of them are funded by government support.
In South Korea, meanwhile, archery is much more popular among school students. It is incorporated into physical education programs in primary schools and teenage archers participate in a yearly national junior league.
It is considered the "Sport of the Nation", and benefits students through sponsorships from local enterprises and college scholarships.
Athens gold medalist Park Sung-hyun, who lost to Zhang in the final, has urged China to increase archery's exposure here.
"We always have talents coming along because we have the best junior training system in the world," she said through interpreter. "China needs to have more children participate in archery, otherwise it would be hard for them to move a step further."
Zhang agrees, adding that archery is good for teenagers.
"Archery is a very beautiful sport," she said. "It's more like a mind game, so it is very good for kids to take up at an early age. It's very physical as well, requiring a lot of strength to control your bow and arrow for such a long distance."
Chinese archers have performed well at the Games. Besides Zhang's gold medal, men's archers also clinched a silver medal in the team event and the women's team took silver as well.
Source: China Daily