South Korea's world-class archers were ordered to clean up city sewage, stay up all night, stare at dead bodies in a crematory and climb a mountain with a rubber dinghy on their backs.
It's all part of a training regime designed to toughen them, mentally and physically, for the world outdoor archery championships in Beijing.
But the country's top four male archers -- all Olympic medallists -- said the Aug. 7-10 training was too intense and pulled out after one day. The Korea Archery Association banned them from the championship that begins Sept. 15, and from running for the national team for up to five years.
"It's a bit late to regret it, but we really did not expect to be replaced," said Kim Bo-ram, ranked fourth in the world.
The sudden gap in the ranks of South Korea's archery team highlights the gruelling methods it has used to reach the sport's top level. South Korea has won 11 gold, six silver and four bronze Olympic medals in archery since first competing in Los Angeles in 1984.
Since 1988, South Korean archers have trained by handling snakes, meditating at a Buddhist temple and walking through a haunted house full of actors in ghoulish outfits. They have also physical endurance tests at military camps.
At this year's training at a navy base in the southern port of Jinhae, both men and women carted an 80-kilogram boat up a mountain, and swam in the sea until their body temperatures plummeted. Four female archers completed the exercise.
"This training has contributed to South Korean archers' performance by helping them control themselves and work under pressure," said Kim Il-chi, vice chairman of the private archery association.
He said other Asian nations have noted the success of South Korea's archers and are studying the training program; China has sent archers to South Korea to run through the same regimen.
Raoul Theeuws, the Belgian vice-president of archery's world committee, known as FITA, said South Korea's tough training teaches discipline.
"But the system works effectively on Asian archers because it suits their social context. It could never work in Western countries," Theeuws said.
Other South Korean athletes undergo severe training. Experts in tae kwon do, a martial art that originated in Korea, sit in cold weather with little clothing and pour cold water on their bodies. When pro golfer Se Ri Pak was a teenager, her father taught her courage by forcing her to sleep in a cemetery. He also made her run up 15 flights of stairs and backpedal all the way down.
Kim, the vice-chairman, said this year's program was similar to previous training and that the male archers may have been too confident.
Kim, the archer, described the haunted house exercise as "a piece of cake," but disagreed they were overconfident.
"This year, we were all a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of the training and we really couldn't afford even a small injury just a month before the championships," said Kim, 28, a silver medallist in the team competition at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
The other three male archers, Jang Yong-ho, Kim Chung-tae and Chang Jae-hun, declined comment.
South Korea's top female archer, who has less experience than the men, acknowledged that the training was harsh.
"There were some side effects, but I feel good and I think it has helped me prepare for the coming championships," said 18-year-old Park Sung-hyun.
Last year, South Korean archers trained for the Sydney Olympics by shooting arrows in front of thousands of spectators at a baseball park in Seoul. As instructed, the crowd cheered when the archers shot well and booed when they were off the mark.
By Soo-Jeong Lee