Trouble in Mexico (part 2)

13 November, 2015

alejandra valencia

Alejandra Valencia with Luis Alvarez in the background.

The Mexican sports pages have been filled with news this last couple of days saying that Alejandra Valencia had been queda fuera del equipo nacional i.e. dropped from the national team, after she apparently failed to attend a training camp in Mexico City prior to the country’s first Olympic squad selection trials.

Senior coach Lee Wong said: “Alejandra Valencia did not show up and therefore her right (to be automatically selected) was lost, and now she must compete on Saturday and Sunday to re-enter.” It seems she is able to join the other athletes invited for selection, but has been knocked down a level or two.

Alejandra said to the press: “I was never sent official notice of anything, just by WhatsApp. If they had given me a plan of what will happen, I would not complain and accept it… but I did not receive anything. ” She also stated she has not had any sporting interactions with the head coach at all.

It appears that Alejandra received a message on short notice through WhatsApp for an pre-training camp meet in Mexico City for the Games selection, but not any official notice or details, and then either “refused” to go or simply did not have enough notice to drop school and family to do so. Reports in the press seem to indicate a lack of clarity in the selection process, or at least a failure in communications.

Ale’s main concern is that she wants to train at home in Sonora with her own coach (where the conditions are apparently very similar to Rio) rather than remain at a lengthy training camp, which is reportedly supposed to continue right up until the Rio Games.

Some of the other athletes have spoken out about the lengthy training camp with an interesting mix of determination and resignation. Luis Álvarez said: “It’s not about being comfortable, it’s about doing what you have to do, wherever and whenever that is.” Karla Hinojosa said  “I had to leave my school, my family, my coach and my boyfriend, with the goal of realising my dream of making it to the Olympics.”

Senior coach Lee Wong seems to be very invested in conditioning the archers to train in Rio-like conditions. Once the training center in Mexico City closes at the end of the year, the archers will move to a camp in Playa del Carmen (on the Yucatan Peninsula) for the heat and humidity; the archers will also be headed to Vegas in January and the final national team will be determined at the conclusion of the early 2016 World Cup stages.

There have been well-documented issues in Mexican archery recently, with ongoing financial and management issues between the governing body and the national Olympic committee (CONADE). Whether this issue is related to that drama is unclear.

Many elite athletes have succeeded at the Games over the years by staying outside (or partially outside) an official programme, and many others have been deselected for the same reasons. It would be a disaster for Mexico if their women’s squad – a good shot for a medal – lost one of their strongest competitors with Olympic experience, and the sport generally would be much poorer without Ale, the 2011 Pan-American champion.  Let’s hope Mexican archery gets its act together as soon as possible.

Thanks to Dario Maciel for assistance. 


the optimal

Amazing project from John Briscella, who got in touch. He has been designing a new type of riser with a prototype piece of software that allows generative processes to be introduced to computer aided design. The result is the Tekina ‘Optimal’ riser, about which Briscella says: “The object should inspire to go out and shoot archery. The design also gives confidence that it is performing well by its mathematically constructed form.”  I’ve sent him some questions about the limbs and his target market, looking forward to his reply.

Watch the video and let me know what you think!




You can see many more pics, and even buy one, right here:

More here:

on equality

12 November, 2015


Jennifer Lawrence training on the Hunger Games set.

Just a few weeks ago, the world’s most famous onscreen archer Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay entitled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?“, which addressed revelations from the Sony hack that she was paid less for American Hustle than her co-stars, despite her A-list status and her Oscar. It’s a powerful, angry and self-aware read.  “It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable…  [but] I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable,” she writes. “Fuck that.”

Sadly it’s a similar story in off-screen archery. Apart from a handful of track stars, it’s not a secret that being an elite Olympic athlete is rarely a path to great wealth – although in recurve archery that may depend on where you are from. But it seems that in compound it’s much harder to make a living as a woman than as a man.

I asked Crystal Gauvin for some details.  She said: “In the US at NFAA events, pay in the pro division is 100% based on participants in that division. It varies by tournament but the payout is usually something like 65-80%, with registration fees for pro/championship division between $225-500. This system rewards high participation numbers in the championship (pro) division. However, unlike World Archery, and other events, people have the choice to shoot in the amateur (or ‘flight’) divisions OR the championship division, which has a much lower entry fee.”

“This creates a chicken/egg type situation where the women’s numbers stay low in the pro division, even as the number of women in the sport growths proportionally much more then men, because the payout is so low. Most tournaments in the US, I would have to win to just break even, coming in second means I lose money. As you can imagine, the majority of women that don’t realistically have a chance at winning will choose to shoot in the amateur class then instead of the pro, which then keeps the payout low.

The differences in payout totals is one of the reasons that there appear to be zero full-time professional compound female archers, as opposed to a few dozen or so men. Most of the top women in the sport, it seems, either work a job outside of the sport or have support from a spouse or family.

The other problem is that anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that some of the bigger archery companies, especially in the USA, do not sponsor female athletes to anything like the degree they sponsor the male stars of the sport. This is despite the staggering growth in participation numbers specifically amongst women and children in the last few years, – which as we all know, Jennifer Lawrence had a lot to do with.  It appears that a large segment of the industry still believes that women do not sell bows. You’d think it would be a marketing opportunity.

Pay inequity has come a long way in many sports, but still lags in others – the most glaring being, of course, soccer.  At the international level, archery rates very highly for gender equality, a key part of the Olympic charter.  The prize money is equal, the differences in sporting format are almost neutral and the ‘rock stars’ of the sport  – especially in recurve – are more women than men. The now well-established World Archery mixed team format is rare in Olympic sport outside racquet events, but is increasingly becoming the norm and looks likely to feature in Tokyo.

But internationally, it’s very difficult for compound archers to compete at elite level and keep a roof over their heads. The recent, unedifying spectacle of Linda Ochoa offering to sell two of her bows to fund a World Cup trip highlights the problems faced, even at the very top.


It’s been an incredible month for women in archery. Sara Lopez, fresh off her dominant world cup season and a finals win in Mexico City, now appears to have smashed the 1440 record by five points at the Colombian nationals. It’s not yet ratified at this writing, but her score of 1424 is the single highest 1440 round in history by anyone, male or female, breaking Peter Elzinga’s 2009 record by five points.

There are arguments to be made for having completely open classes too – which already happens in some shooting events.

But if it becomes ever more difficult to make any sort of living as a female archer, then the future stars of the sport might simply give up at some point along the way and hang up their (non-sponsored) bows. That would be beyond a tragedy.

La Reina

11 November, 2015



The 20-year-old Colombian archer already held the compound women’s world records for the 72-arrow qualification round and 15-arrow match at 50 metres. At the 2015 Colombian National Games, an Olympic-style event between the different regions in the country and held roughly every four years, she added two more world-best marks.

Lopez scored 1424 out of a possible 1440 points for the four-distance 1440 Round. Her distance scores (all out of a possible 360 for 36 arrows) were: 353 at 70 metres, 355 at 60 metres, 356 at 50 metres, 360/26X at 30 metres.

The previous compound women’s record for the full round was set by Kristina Heigenhauser in 2013 and stood at 1418.

Lopez also beat the 50-metre record, scoring two points more than Jamie van Natta’s 354, which was set in 2007.

All four distances and the combined score are also world bests.

Just amazing. Read the rest at:

six hundred years

25 October, 2015


Six hundred years ago today, on the morning of the 25th of October 1415, a small band of English archers commanded by Henry V won a great military victory in France in the Hundred Years War. It was known as the Battle Of Agincourt, and it has been celebrated ever since in English history as perhaps the greatest underdog story ever, a tale of English grit over French arrogance. The legend was most famously retold by Shakespeare in Henry V, from where we get the phrase ‘band of brothers’.

Agincourt remains the greatest moment for archery in military history. The era was notable for English armies with ranks of thousands of longbowmen able to hold off approaching armies at hundreds of yards. The effectiveness of massed longbows had been tested at the Battle of Crécy almost a hundred years earlier, but Agincourt, where the sky was “dark with arrows” incapacitating a much larger French army – just how large, has long been debated – remains the high point for the weapon. It was a brutal, grimly violent encounter, but without the longbows, there would have been a massacre. Soon afterwards, gunpowder would spread across the world, and the longbow would rapidly leave the armouries of England.

There are news articles aplenty about Agincourt in most UK newspapers today, and dozens of books on the subject, but you can start with the Wikipedia page and work from there. For a deeper focus on archery, you should probably read Robert Hardy’s classic ‘Longbow‘ which has an extensive chapter on the battle. My favourite bit of writing on Agincourt remains ‘The Bowmen Of England’ by Donald Featherstone, a couple of pages of which I have reproduced below.

You could have a look at what the Agincourt 600 movement has organised.  In London, at the Tower Of London, there is an extensive exhibition running until the end of January featuring an overhead ‘shower of arrows‘ (below). Am intrigued by the novel written by this lady too.


Right, I’m off to the south coast to loose some arrows towards France. Who’s with me?

File 25-10-2015, 09 25 44

File 25-10-2015, 09 24 23

the oldest bow in the world

22 October, 2015

Holmegaard bow


It lies quietly in a glass case on the ground floor of the National Museum of Denmark in the centre of Copenhagen, just a couple of hundred yards from the Christianborg Palace where the World Archery Championships were held in July 2015.

In four pieces, it’s 64 inches long and a glowing, deep brown colour, resting next to a wooden paddle and a skeleton of a prehistoric horse. 

It is known as the Holmegaard bow, and it’s one of several bows found during WW2 in the peat bogs of Denmark. At first glance, it’s not the most incredible sight in the world, for something so important to history. The small sign on the wall doesn’t really do it much justice, and there are hundreds of other things to draw the eye in the ‘Prehistory’ section and all over this interesting museum. 

Because this is the oldest bow in the world. Or rather, it’s the oldest complete bow, and the oldest existing bow we know about, and the oldest thing that is unquestionably a bow. As a piece of technology, it’s striking how modern it looks – elegant and symmetrical. The second bow found is even longer (170cm / 66in), and there are fragments of more.

It is dated to around 7000 years BC, in the Mesolithic period. This date is not particularly in question, but it was based upon the layers it was found in. The heavy formaldehyde preservative it was treated with after its removal from the safe, oxygen-free confines of the bog has hindered any further attempts at chemical or carbon dating. 

Bows and arrows obviously existed for many thousands of years before the Holmegaard bow, but this piece of dark elm is the ‘stop date’. No one knows exactly when bow and arrow technology was first invented. Some scientists believe it was invented closer to 70,000 years ago, which would put it towards the tail end of the Paleolithic.

HG bow wide

I spoke to research fellow Lasse Sorenson after my visit: “The bow was found in 1944, during the second world war. There was a shortage of coal, and people started digging up the peat bogs on the island of Zealand for fuel.”

“These bows were made and used by people of the Maglemose culture. They were sophisticated nomadic hunters who had jewellery, domesticated dogs and decorated dugout canoes.”

“But they have found triangular worked flints which are almost certainly arrowheads from the Solutrean period in Europe, over 20,000 years ago.”

“So this was a piece of technology that had probably already gone through thousands of iterations already. It’s really a very sophisticated machine.”

Many bowyers have produced reproductions of the Holmegaard bow, and it is regarded as one of the classic European wooden self bows of antiquity along with the Mollegabet and Meare Heath bows. It has a characteristic design with wide, tapering limbs and a cutaway handle, which Sorenson believes would have been wrapped in leather. It is an efficient weapon even today.

“At the time Denmark and much of the rest of northern Europe would have been covered in dense forest. There would have been plenty of large animals: aurochs, red deer, wild boar, fish. It would have been a good place to hunt.” 

Photo 22-02-2015 14 04 11

The bow communicates across the millennia. It tells us, in an almost mystical way, something about what people were thinking. The culture that built the Holmegaard bow was contemporary with and archeologically related to a site in Britain – then still just about connected to mainland Europe by a land bridge –  known as Star Carr. This site is most famous for the extraordinary headdresses made out of red deer skulls, one of which I photographed in Cambridge earlier this year.

Whoever the craftsmen who built the Holmegaard bow were, they were likely part of a culture who bound hunting, religion and magical thinking together in ways that it is almost impossible to imagine now. The bow, and possibly the bowyer, may have been a source of great power and infused with a deep magic, as humans stumbled into the Holocene. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Some other pics of the Holmegaard and other ancient Danish bows here

that’s one way to deliver a message

13 October, 2015

Apparently, at various times during Japan’s long history of military archery, messages once travelled through the air in the form of yabumi (literally: ‘arrow text’),  a folded letter attached to an arrow that acted as a speedy – if dangerous – message delivery service.

This echo of a distant age seems to still have a lot of resonance in Japan, and you can find the yabumi image of a lengthways-folded message tied round an arrow frequently used as a metaphor or a historical bit of fun.


Anyway, someone has revived this tradition using an arrow with a strong magnet on the end – no bow required – and you may be able to buy it here if you can negotiate the process in Japanese. Although it should be pretty easy to make your own, or borrow someone else’s plans.



More information here!

the old and the new

8 October, 2015


#TBT: archery on primetime British TV, as a strong historical VT segment on the re-enactment of the battle of Agincourt in northern France bleeds into a slightly dumbed-down live piece featuring GB internationals Becky Martin (recurve) and Jo Frith (para compound) ‘against’ Nick Frost‘s local darts team. The whole thing overseen, for some reason, by Geena Davis, who has several well-known connections to archery, but wasn’t shooting – she was in town to talk about something else.

The Agincourt piece is pretty strong (NB am going to write an extended piece for publishing on the anniversary on the 25th), but the ‘dartchery’ piece I have problems with.

I’m always a bit torn with TV exposure like this. On the one hand it’s going to expose archery to a lot of people, some of whom might make it part of their lives. On the other, the dumb, jokey format reinforces the popular public opinion that it’s more a frivolous pastime than a serious Olympic sport that can change your life. Like archery is the ‘giant chess set‘ version of darts, played in the pub back garden. In the long run, I think this is detrimental to the sport, because it diminishes popular respect for it.

It should be pointed out that this has nothing to do with Becky or Jo, who did a great job, and everything to do with the lazy TV researchers who decided to go with the first dumb idea in their heads. Enjoy.

UK readers can watch the full episode here for a while.