moving towards the light

13 February, 2017

 

Archery Fit – coaching range

I’ve been writing about archery for five years now, but recently, not doing very much of it at all. I wrote a while ago about trying to improve, before I got reminded of my status at the Lausanne Archery Classic. That’s all changed in 2017. I’ve caught the bug again.

I know most of you out there are archers of one stripe or another, and if you are, you’ve probably run through the same gamut of emotions that everybody else has had. Incredible urges to go out and shoot, to get better, to master it. Getting home from a bad shooting session in a foul mood and throwing your bow into a cupboard for several weeks, or months – or even years. Sessions where you surprised yourself with inner strength and confidence. Sessions where you couldn’t hit a barn door if they stood it up in front of you. Fun sessions. Boring sessions. And everything in-between. 

I spent 2015 and 2016 doing scrappy, occasional hobby shooting at my club. Stick-flinging, in the British parlance, capped by a disastrous short metric competition at our local rivals last summer where I abandoned the last few ends rather than put any more arrows in the green.

I realised that I needed to start from scratch. It was pointless to continue as I was without coaching, without structure – which raised another problem.  I live in London, which is great for many things in life but isn’t the focus of archery in the UK, which is centred (roughly) on the Midlands.

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did this with a Samick Polaris, no clicker, at 18m. YEAH.

Greater London boasts at least twelve archery clubs, but not a single archery shop. The slim margins and the need for a large range space preclude it, despite the fact that the demand to learn archery in London, since the post Hunger Games / London 2012 boom, has long outstripped the supply – the beginner’s courses at our club were booked up for two years in advance at one point. There are just a tiny handful of qualified coaches in the city, and most of them are busy or available only sporadically. 

Indeed, getting to higher levels in archery is something of a postcode lottery in Britain. You need to be lucky enough to be near a coach or a club with a deep tradition of coaching and someone with the time and energy to take you on. Good luck. Ultimately, the majority of archers after completing a beginner’s course are left to fend for themselves with a mix of the odd half-coaching session and ad-hoc advice sourced from club members, books and videos, and the internet. A handful each year go to the open residential courses at Lilleshall. Imagine if you had completed a six-week beginner’s judo course, graduated, and were sent on your way with a: “Great. Now go and make it to black belt on your own.”  That’s the reality of archery tuition for most of the UK.

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Luckily, someone finally realised the pent-up demand for archery in the capital and opened, in 2015, the wonderful Archery Fit in Greenwich, on the river east of the city centre. It is the first and so far the only dedicated commercial indoor range in the country where you can book a slot any time they are open, and they provide something else which is almost unique in the UK: bookable coaching, usually in small groups of just two or three. 

Roman and Kate, the transplanted Russians who built and run Archery Fit, aren’t keen on stick-flinging. Everyone who comes to the club gets taken under their wing, but it’s very clear this is not the casual, pinging-away pastime atmosphere of many UK clubs. It’s a place to learn how to be an archer. In a gleaming, modern basement with plenty of light and space, they have built a club with atmosphere and style. There is an emphasis on formal, well-trained shooting with full warmups, but they’ve managed to keep a sense of humour about the place too.

By accident or design, there’s a lot of recurve barebows around, although beginners are encouraged to try all bowstyles.  It’s seen a few luminaries since it’s been open: Vic Wunderle, whose shirt now hangs on the wall, and Natalia Avdeeva have made appearances. There’s a strong community spirit, and all levels at the place made a successful trip to the indoor nationals last year. I love my club and I’ll be there forever, but I feel like I’m part of this place now too.

I have a coach. It feels odd just saying it. Kate Zalyubovskaya is a former Russian national champion. There is no doubt about what needs to be done.  She saw what I had brought, and shook her head. Since December, she has rebuilt my recurve shot from a hotpotch of inherited ideas and oh-maybe-I’ll try-this into a formal, strong, upright delivery. There’s no hiding place. She spots everything; the tucking in of the head, a push out of the chest, even the tiniest pop of the fingers on release. Nothing is missed. I’m getting used to the wry smiles, and the cries of “elbow… head… focus…hold it!”.

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Better than that, with regular coaching I’m starting to figuring out what could be wrong before the arrow has left the bow; coming down and resetting rather than just letting it fly. The more garbage shots you can leave on the line, the better.

There’s some way to go, but I no longer feel like I’m struggling with the bow, like it’s something I can’t control. The draw is starting to feel like I’m charging something with magic. The fourth or fifth arrow in a training end is still clumsy, but the first three are starting to fly confidently, with a snap. There are few things more satisfying than a consistent strong draw, releasing with confidence and hitting something like the mark, and the cyclical building of confidence that comes with that.

More than that: I want to go and shoot now. I want to be there. I see it coming closer now. Being an archer, without that sense of feeling like an imposter. I know I’m not Tokyo 2020 material, but there’s some other goals that could be set. I’m not even scoring yet – coach says that’s further down the line – but I’m kind of itching to start. It’s part of me again, and you can take the confidence away with you. It’s something even more special that I remembered.

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Joining forces!

6 January, 2017

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So it’s all change for 2017. Me and Dean Alberga are joining forces under the Dutch Target banner.

I’ve been working with Dean on various international events for a couple of years now, and he’s been the same absolute gent that many of you have met over the years. We are both running archery blogs, and it seemed a little odd to be working at cross purposes, as it were, so, after a fair bit of discussion, we’ve decided to meet in the middle and create something even bigger and better.

The blogging will be under Dutch Target, but the Facebook page is staying the same, and The Infinite Curve will remain up with everything still there. Most importantly (haha), I’m staying the same – am going to continue to provide independent coverage for archery. I’m very glad so many of you have enjoyed what I’ve done so far, and I’ll carry that on just as long as I’m able.

I’m really looking forward to this new venture in such a big year for archery and looking forward to seeing where it leads. I hope you are too! John x

New year, new Urban Archery

31 December, 2016

Patrick Huston, recurve archer and Olympian for TeamGB has plans. Big plans. He’s been working on a concept called Urban Archery, a ‘real life video game’ involving foam-tipped arrows, pop-up enemies, and shooting all your friends. It’s kind of urban field archery, wth crazy angles and making extraordinary shots possible. Let him explain it to you right here:

 

 

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You can watch the other promo video here. The first Urban Archery centre is planned to be open in a warehouse in Manchester early next year. It’s going to target recreational gamers, “people who are more used to playing Call Of Duty than getting off the sofa”.

That’s not all. There’s plans for an elite ‘X-Games’ version called UrbanXArchery. That’s not all either. There’s plans for an archery festival involving music and food as well early in 2017. There’s plans for TV. It’s lucky Patrick has a lot of energy. He’ll need it.

Have a look at the Crowdfunder page here, which explains a lot more of what’ll be going on. You can get behind it in a more concrete way:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/urbanarchery

This is obviously a massive project, but with a great deal of potential for a broad sell to all sorts of people who would never take up target archery.  Has it got what it takes? I hope so.

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Uncontacted

29 December, 2016

Photo: Guardian / Ricardo Stuckert

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Photo: Guardian / Ricardo Stuckert

Just before Christmas, the UK Guardian published some striking images from Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, taken from a helicopter.

There are just a handful of uncontacted tribes left on the Earth, and the number is shrinking every year. The definition of ‘uncontacted’ is wide; usually certain groups are known to exist locally, and may even trade with others, but do not emerge from their territory. Given the history of uncontacted people making contact with the developed world, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, it’s not surprising; unresistant illness, assimilation, and murder are likely outcomes, at least historically.

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Photo: Guardian / Ricardo Stuckert

The reason they are in here, of course, is that they are wielding bows. Not just as sport or relaxation, or recreational hunting – as a matter of life or death, as a fundamental tool that has to be understood, learned and respected. It’s easy to forget the origins of that most human of objects.

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Across the Atlantic, you can read about the Sentinelese, an ‘uncontacted’ tribe of legendary hostility living on an island in the Indian Ocean, luckily now left in peace by the rest of the world. Probably the most isolated of pre-Neolithic tribes of all, no-one in the world outside the island can speak their language, but legends tell of the accuracy of their flatbow, only occasionally photographed, usually with the business end pointing at the photographer. In 2006 Sentinelese archers killed two fisherman who were fishing illegally near the island. An Indian Coast Guard helicopter that was sent to retrieve the bodies was driven off by Sentinelese warriors, who fired a volley of arrows.

You may love your bow, but It’s as well to remember that for a handful of people, quietly and proudly living on the same planet, the bow and arrow remain not just part of their identity, but part of their very existence.

Read more about uncontacted peoples here. 

 

 

Chang Hyejin wins… again.

22 December, 2016

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Copyright: MK

Chang Hyejin, the Rio double gold medallist, has won yet another award, this one first prize at the 2016 MBN Women’s Sports Grand Prix, this following on from her award for Female Sportsperson of The Year last month. She’s also opened up to the media about her plans for Tokyo – and getting married.

Despite her comments below about feeling awkward, from the pics that are coming out it looks like she’s been waiting a long time to glam up and take the spotlight. This, of course, follows her excellent turn in Korean Vogue a couple of months ago. Enjoy.

 

The big star is Chang Hyejin, nicknamed ‘Chang Kong’, who has been transformed from obscurity to star by winning the double gold in Olympic archery.

Her cute appearance and her witty interview style when she stated that gold medals at individual divisions tasted like chocolate pies and that gold medals at team divisions tasted like rainbow coloured cotton candy, gave her the spotlight.

“I think I won’t be forgetting this year since I’ve received such a big prize.”

She won the highest honour at the ‘2016 MBN Women’s Sports Grand Prize’ ceremony held at Lotte Hotel in Sogong-dong, Seoul on 19th December, but was still shy. Hyejin, in her fancy pearl dress stated, “I laugh and smile a lot usually, but I thought I was going to die out of awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings when taking pictures in the dress.”

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Copyright: MK

Hyejin took photos with her fans well after the awards ceremony and showed a reluctance to be a ‘star’. “I still use public transport, but, I get autograph requests in restaurants from time to time.”

This attitude is the reason Chang has played a pivotal role in gaining fame in 2016. Four years ago she did not go to the London Olympics after being ranked fourth in the representative tournament, but made third place in the year and eventually found her archery potential was blossoming.

When asked about the year-end and New Year plans, Hyejin said, “I started winter training last week, and I think I will probably return over Christmas and train.”

“As I’ve expressed that I’d want to write a new page in history, I won’t have any time to rest in 2017. The national archery team that will meet will be selected again, both the coaching staff and the athletes. Olympic gold medalists are no exception”

“The Olympics are already over. Just because a person has been at the top of the world once,  that skill rusts over time. As time goes on, my goal for participating in Tokyo is becoming crystal clear.”

Hyejin will try to make the team for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, and if she wins a gold medal in the individual event would become the first individual archer to defend a title in history. 

Chang will be 30 years old in 2017. Being currently single, she expressed, “I don’t feel ready to marry anyone right now, but I get anxious that it might be too late to marry someone by the time the Tokyo Olympics are over. Two consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games are a dream, but I have other dreams too”, she explained, shyly. 

Hyejin, who once said that gold medals taste like ‘chocolate cookies’ in Rio, is still hungry for more. “I am trying to accomplish successive individual golds, marriage, and kids all at once. I suppose I want to taste other flavours as well, but I’ll know when I actually taste it.” she said, smiling. 

Copyright: MK

Original news articles by Sport MK, and can be found here and here.  Thanks to Sooji Kim for additional translation.

 

 

What does it say on Choi Misun’s quiver?

16 December, 2016

Choi Misun Quiver card

Choi Misun’s quiver card

Was looking through the year’s photos, and I noticed this from the Odense World Cup final in Denmark. It’s a laminated card attached to Choi Misun’s quiver. Either I’d not noticed it before, or it was new – either way, I zoomed in voyeuristically for a shot.
This week I asked a Korean friend to translate what it says on it.  It’s weirdly simple:

1. Hold the left grip
2. Aim accurately
3. Maintain the bow arm until the end when shooting
4. Have trust and shoot confidently!

I guess that’s all it takes to be the world number one. Unless she’s trolling everybody? :)

You can have a look at what it says in Ki Bo Bae’s notebook here.  What does it say in yours?

 

inspiration

13 December, 2016


A sweet Rio postscript: this (above) is Raquel Lucena and her daughter Zahra, who at the Rio Paralympics were a very vocal presence supporting Zahra Nemati, who you will remember shot in both the Olympics and Paralympics for Iran, taking a gold medal in the latter.

Raquel sent me a rather nice message and some pictures today saying that her “little Zahra” had started taking archery lessons with Renato Emilio, the Brazilian archer that competed in four Olympics for Brazil from 1980-1992. She says “I wish she could know that little Zahra and I are practicing archery with her in our hearts!!!”. (I’ll try and let her know).

Yeah, that’s what it’s all about. Right there. :)

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designs from the Olympic Museum

7 December, 2016

the Olympic flame

In Lausanne at the weekend I visited the Olympic Museum, one of the town’s best known attractions, in the home of the IOC. There’s not much dedicated archery material apart from the bow Zhang JuanJuan used to win the women’s individual title in Beijing, but it isn’t really about sport-specific stuff. If you are interested in the Olympics generally I recommend a visit if you’re in that part of the world.

My favourite part was the section dedicated to Olympic design and communication. One of the most popular posts I have ever put up here was the the piece I did about Olympic pictograms, which still quietly ratchets up thousands of views every year.

Outside archery I have an extensive interest in design and typography, and the best Olympic design work is enormously influential on spreading ideas about visual design, as well as becoming part of national identity and collective memories, shaping global perceptions for decades to come. I still think the clean, modern ‘Swiss’ work done in the late 60s and early 70s remains particularly strong.

The designs for the first two Japanese Games – Tokyo ’64 and Sapporo ’72  – were exceptionally good. I really hope that whoever is on the case for 2020 delivers something that matches them.

There’s plenty of resources about Olympic design on the web, I recommend Adam Harris’s Pinterest page as a good jumping off point.

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that radio is awesome

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Awesome Mexico ’68 dresses, actually worn by some of the volunteers!

La Lanterne Rouge, or How I Survived The Lausanne Archery Classic

6 December, 2016

In this blog, I try to mostly keep myself reasonably well out of things. There’s a number of archery blogs out there there about ‘my progress as an archer’, many of which I enjoy. But I always wanted The Infinite Curve to be more about the professional, international sport side of things rather than either a personal blog or markedly about archery equipment.  This post is going to be a bit different.

I took up recurve about seven years ago, after attending a have-a-go session at a stag do in London. I still remember that day; the slightly chilly community hall, the Samicks in their rack, the deep satisfaction of hitting the boss, the incredible annoyance of having to stop. I think I phoned and booked a beginners course the next day, and joined a wonderful archery club in London shortly after, which has provided me with years of great times and great friends.

I’m sure many of you have had the same joy, that burst of enthusiasm, going headlong into something new, and perhaps, afterwards, the fading of the fun, the waning. When you plateau and realise that to carry on improving is going to take a vast amount of work, involving unlearning and learning and dealing with your brain screaming at you that “you’re terrible”.

So in the last few years, I’ve gradually been writing about archery more than actually doing it, and the last two years has mostly seen the kit bag in the cupboard; life has got in the way. The occasional times I’ve turned up to the weekend club meets have been met with choruses of ‘hello stranger!’ and other, less printable jokes. I’ve been a writer, not an archer, and shooting has been a scrappy, inconsistent struggle with the bow. Which of course, puts you off going again. I don’t have any excuses. Life moved on of course, and I moved in with my partner, got a new job, got lazier and started preferring Saturday mornings in bed with the newspaper.

So when World Archery invited me to Lausanne with the non-negotiable proviso that “you have to shoot”, it made me gulp a bit. The Lausanne Archery Classic was the inaugural tournament in the amazing new Excellence Centre, and would feature a handful of elite-of-the-elite international talent and several dozen of the best Swiss and French archers. And then me. Who has shot perhaps twelve times in the last two years. Hey! That sounds fun!

I spent the last couple of weeks before leaving for Switzerland almost every night at Archery Fit in Greenwich, in London (will post more about this incredible place later this month). The coaching has been strong, but they pretty much had to start me from zero. They’ve worked hard, and given me a firm base to work from. I put some effort in, but needless to say you can’t become an archer (again) in a fortnight. I have a basic shot, and just enough strength to handle the weight for sixty arrows, but that’s it.

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To pile it on even more, I didn’t even take a bow to Switzerland. The day before the tournament, I was kindly gifted a new Faktor / X-Tour bow by my new sponsors Hoyt Formula Series, in gleaming anodised green. I know this is going to sound well-of-course-he’d-say-that, but you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s easily the most beautiful and smoothest bow I’ve ever picked up. You just look at it, and your heart sings. You want to get busy straightaway. It’s true. Everybody there wants a go on it, and gets one. Dean Alberga and Sjef Van Den Berg help me set it up and get it to a basic tune, which is equally ridiculously kind. It’s like putting a race-ready Ferrari in the hands of someone who’s just passed their driving test. Or, in my case, probably failed their driving test.

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and if you have five seconds to spare / Then I’ll tell you the story of my life

There is official practice the day before, which irons out a few of the kinks. My ACGs sing towards the wall straight and flat. The equipment is ready, even if I’m not. It’s almost impossible not to be distracted by the sight of Ki Bo Bae, Ku Bonchan, and Choi Misun relaxedly pinging away in the middle of the line. Los galacticos. For extra fun, I am thick with a cold; streaming nose, dopey, pounding head, dosed up to the eyeballs with Day Nurse. At one point, Ku Bonchan comes over, stands about two feet away, and watches me as I aaaaahhh just about manage to get a shot off, back tension rapidly vanishing. I look at him. He looks at me and says “Good.” and smiles. That counts as coaching, right? I also get the once over from Park Chaesoon, Ki Bo Bae’s coach and famously, one of the noisier Koreans on the line. He gives me a wry smile which I interpret as ‘Jesus wept, but hey, nice to have you here.’ Yeaaaarrhhhh.

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Sunday morning arrives. I am the only male representative of Great Britain; women’s recurve is being repped by a little-known archer called Naomi Folkard, who is kind enough to help me with all my spectacularly dumb questions. Unlike everybody here – apart, apparently, from Ku Bonchan – I’ve never shot a record status FITA18 tournament. Or, indeed, any tournament in the last three years. Whether by accident, or more likely by design, they’ve stuck me on the target next to Ki Bo Bae, opposite detail, who sits behind me as I go up to shoot.  Thanks guys. AAAAAAAGHHHH.

There is nowhere to hide here. No deadline you can go over by a day or two, no friend you can collaborate with, no little angle you can exploit or work. It’s you out there, and everyone knows just how good or not you are. The little digital numbers above each target spell it out, coldly. Character-building. I like that, though. I need it. Even if I feel like an idiot for a lot of the morning.

So… I get through it. It’s ugly. I know what to do, and I even know mostly where I am going wrong, but I simply don’t have the shot nailed on yet, the muscle memory, the strength. The errors glare brighter and wider. On the line, nervous, sick and tired, I’ve only got about eighty percent of the best I had in the practice hall. My bow arm seems to lose power, my draw hand index finger is raw (it’s now got a lovely big blood blister), and I have one horrible end of L-R errors where I put in a big fat zero. But there’s a few bright spots, a few tens, a few crisp pulls.  I like my tolerant Swiss target mates (one of whom puts in a 581) and remember enough French to call out the score: dix, sept, miss…

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There’s interruptions and a few niggles with lighting, but after a slight improvement on the back nine, I finish with 347, bottom of the recurve men by a little over 100 points. The lanterne rouge. Unfortunately, the 40 men are cut to 32, denying me the chance to get mercilessly steamrollered by Ku. My fun is over. To be fair, I probably did myself justice to the amount of work I’ve put in, and performed close to my ability on the day. Oh, for another 100 hours of practice. Or 10,000. But I’ve actually quite enjoyed myself. So easy to forget that that’s the point.

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The rest of the tournament proceeds familiarly, with the Korean team behaving like charming rock stars: signing targets, being in a million photographs, earning their living. I’ve mentioned this before, but as far as I know, archery is completely unique amongst Olympic sports, or perhaps any sports, for being able to compete directly with the best of all time. You can pitch up as a complete noob compounder and shoot next to and be scored by Reo Wilde. Or as very-much-not-noob Rebekah Tipping did last week, do the ranking round with Aida Roman. I suppose you can technically run a big city marathon ‘with’ Haile Gebrselassie, but they don’t let you start with him, and you probably won’t get a selfie with him afterwards. (EDIT: apparently you can do this in rowing, too.) 

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Nomes banging them in.

Ku matches the world mark, then inevitably runs through the field without incident until top Frenchman Antoine Thomas takes three points off him in a decent final. Ki beat Choi – again. (That’s gotta hurt a bit). Sara beat Sarah – again. (Ditto). Nomes wins another shootoff for bronze. You can see all the results right here.

I end up feeling pretty good. And now I just want to get out there and shoot. I want to be good. I want to be an archer again. It sings to you a song you don’t always want to hear, but know is the music you should really be listening to. It’s not always fun. It scours the character. It tells you which cupboards are empty; discipline, concentration, focus – things I’ve been missing across my life in 2016.

I wonder if I can do it.

 

 

 

World Archery Excellence Centre – Grand Opening

5 December, 2016

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Easton Hall

So at the beginning of December I was lucky enough to be invited to Lausanne in Switzerland for the grand opening of the much anticipated World Archery Excellence Centre, many years in the planning, almost as many in the execution.

Lausanne is the World Archery base, and the base of Olympic sport in general. The centre itself stands in the Swiss countryside, a long, low building just off the main road a few kilometres north of the city centre – pleasingly, you are pointed there by little signs using the classic 1972 Otl Aicher pictogram.

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The indoor Easton Hall, almost six thousand square metres, is very much the heart of things. There’s a nice blend of ambient and artificial light from the long upper storey windows.I like the look of the place, solid and angular and aware of its natural surroundings. The concrete feels smooth and warm rather than brutal, the building has many eco-modern features such as geothermal heating and solar power, and the environmental commitment includes acres of unpainted plywood internally, which is apparently going to stay that way.  It gleams with newness and pride, even if there’s still a few edges to iron out.

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dix, dix, dix

Indoors is limited to 70m, but the outdoor range, chilly in a Swiss December, allows up to 90m shooting. Naturally, there all the rest of the facilities expected of a modern sports complex; a gym, physio room, equipment repair room, meeting rooms, and a restaurant. There is an emphasis on expanding excellence in coaching just as much as training archers and teams.

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The only thing I was surprised about is the lack of residential facilities, a cornerstone of some other international archery destinations like Kim Hyung-Tak’s school in Korea. But apparently they are in the long-term plan; it’s been an epic journey to secure the permissions for the Centre which started in 2009. The area is a zone of expansion for the city of Lausanne, and new hotels and apartments are coming in. I really hope the spectacular size and location can draw in the business from around the world.

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tats

Friday saw a grand opening ceremony with speeches from IOC president Thomas Bach and World Archery president Dr. Ugur Erdener, as well as the Turkish sports minister. Later, in front of the great and the good of Lausanne, international archery, and the Olympic movement, we were treated to an exhibition match from mixed teams of Choi Misun and Sjef Van Den Berg versus Naomi Folkard and Ku Bonchan, followed by the well-honed rivalry of Sara Lopez versus Sarah Sonnichsen, where the latter won (interestingly, the first match Sara Lopez has lost for over a year, even if it wasn’t ‘real’). A team of Swiss youth archers finally burst some large balloons and the place erupted in confetti, wine, canapes and larking around.

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Swiss youth team waiting for the big moment

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Choi (pronounced CHAY) Misun

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So yeah… this happened.

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The various Olympians, invited for the weekend seemed relaxed and ready to enjoy themselves. I’d love to be able to tell you which of the Korean team smokes like a chimney and which one of them nailed a whole bottle of wine during the opening party, but that’d be breaking ‘tour rules’. What happens in Lausanne, stays in Lausanne. 

The weekend wrapped up with the Lausanne Archery Classic FITA 18 tournament on Sunday morning, where I did something I don’t usually do: I took part.  More on that tomorrow.