So I went to Vegas, to take photos for the NFAA. Lots of them. So many. More than you can possibly imagine. And it was a lot more difficult than I thought it might be. Nah, who’s he kidding. I’d like his job. Yeah, I’m pretty lucky really.
My brief was mostly cover ‘real people’, rather than serious competitive archers, who obviously aren’t real people. But I did some of those anyway.
The photos were almost all pretty straightforward, but The Vegas Shoot is by turns the greatest thing ever and the most exhausting weirdness, sometimes at the same time. I hope I occasionally got a shimmer of that, anyway.
During the practice ends I decided it wouldn’t be that intrusive to break out the 20mm lens, on the ends of the line. This is an ultrawide lens that requires you to get really close to your subject – too close, really – but rewards you with a grandiose, yet personal feel if you get the right background. Closer to what the eye sees than a fisheye, but still unreal.
The barebow lines had all the interesting people. And this service dog. With some shoes.
Fatemah Ghasempour is, apparently, the first female archer from Iran to shoot barebow. Ever.
It hurts, frankly, to push the supplied pins into the bales with your fingers. Some people even bring hammers. Or make their own arrangements.
Sara Lopez (Colombia). Looking at the screen. Or maybe praying. Both very possible.
Just before the final championship shootdown I did exactly what I did last year, which was position myself by the screen that the final 900’ers have to walk past, one by one, to get into the arena. Again with the ultrawide, you are right in people’s faces. There is no element of quietly documenting. You are very much taking a picture of someone, and they are hyper aware of it. I tried to be quiet and polite and unobtrusive, but just not hide in any way what I was doing. The camera is only a foot or so away from their face. Which makes for some interesting results. Some played the all-American superman, some enjoyed it, some ignored it, some were super nervous, and PJ Deloche looked at me and just gave a cheeky grin.
So I beat an Olympic champion in Rome this weekend.
Only joking. I spent a load of money and flew all the way to Rome to shoot like absolute garbage in front of an audience of my peers and friends. But apart from that, I had a pretty good time.
The inaugural Roma Archery Trophy wasn’t held very near anything in Rome you might ever have heard of. It was held in hall 9 of a vast, sprawling exhibition and conference centre complex called Fieri di Roma, which is out near the airport. Previous foreign visitors were unimpressed. As is pretty usual in these kinds of situations, I had no time at all to go and see or do a damn thing apart from eat and sleep in the tidy-but-gouging Sheraton hotel a few minutes drive from the venue.
Many archers managed to make some kind of a holiday out of it, in the Eternal City. I didn’t. I had no time before or after. I flew in, saw some ring roads, and flew out. Apart from the excellent coffee, I could almost have been in Coventry. Or indeed, anywhere. I’m not knocking the venue or the organisers at all; it’s got to be held somewhere, and the place had good lighting and mostly ran well. For some reason, we were picked up at the airport in a police van, and shuttled from hotel to venue in a camouflage Italian air force military bus. You don’t get that in Telford. (You don’t get much of anything in Telford, though).
Back to the garbage. For some weeks and months beforehand, despite being in possession of an excellent top-of-the-line Hoyt recurve bow, I had been seized with a curious notion that it would be an excellent idea to have a second setup, a low poundage ‘indoor setup’ with aluminium Eclipse X7s, that would be both forgiving and fun to shoot, all based around the novelty that is the Spigarelli Revolution riser. I spent a large amount of money, an inordinate amount of time, and an awful lot of mental energy trying to make this work. I doggedly stuck with it, working out some of the niggles.
And… it didn’t work. It sounded beautiful, like opening a fizzy bottle of water. The arrows flew straight, after a great deal of help from Mark, my tuning guru. But I never got the bareshafts doing anything consistent (I now know that aluminiums don’t really ‘work’ for bareshaft tuning like carbons). There’s something straight-up odd about the clicker, and there was something wild about the combinations. You could sense with it that in the right hands it could do some damage, but the word of the day was ‘unforgiving’. It magnified errors, like a gleeful, sadistic teacher. My Hoyt sounds clunky and ugly but it is forgiving and far more consistent with carbon arrows.
Regular readers may know quite how difficult I find recurve archery, and how, whatever else I’ve managed to achieve around the edges of the sport, my utterly cack-handed ineptitude around the technical side of it and the deep lack of the discipline required have shamed me for ever, despite the fantastic help I have had and the kindness I have been shown by many people (you know who you are). And I keep telling people I’m not very good at this, and they think I’m being modest. I’m not. I really am atrocious at it, on a performance level at least. Even more frustratingly, there’s kind of a good shot developing. But I do not have the time and I do not have the energy to put the work into making it happen. That’s not an excuse. It’s just reality.
Nevertheless, I keep sticking my head above the parapet. I’ve committed to the stupid bow and I put it in a case and take it to Rome. They say you can only beat who’s put in front of you, right? Well, I was stuck on a target with the big man himself: Oh Jin Hyek, the 2012 Olympic champion, and a couple of very polite and pleasant Italian guys called Tommi and Giuseppe. Our line was the second up at 9am on the Saturday morning. I’d squished in an hour of scrappy practice the preceding evening, and I knew the game was up for putting in a serious score, but I’m feeling OK. I take a decision: I’m here to learn. What, though?
I’m really looking forward to shooting with Oh. He’s been a minor hero of mine ever since London 2012. I’ve been lucky enough to speak to him a few times. I like his pugnacious spirit and his dark, gritty approach to the sport, plus he seems to have a sense of humour. He’s fighting time and years and his shoulders are giving him trouble. He’s just become a dad. He looked tired and haggard on the circuit this year. How long can he hang on in the world of Korean professional archery? Yet he pulled a major indoor win out of the bag in Macau, showing the kind of minor-god form he has always been capable of. I could learn something from him, couldn’t I? Something useful.
So at 8.30, on the line, we are sitting there waiting for him. The next target along is waiting for one of his Hyundai Steel teammates. We do all the pacing and stretching and shaking hands and pre-flight checks you do. The clock creeps on. Five minutes until showtime. What, did they get stuck in traffic or something? On Saturday morning? No. It seems very un-Korean. But he’s not here. No Oh. Oh no. There’s nothing I can learn close up today.
We kick off. Three practice ends. Then I step back onto the line. Top, middle, bottom. Stance. Keep your head still. I draw, it seems good. Anchor seems there. It gets away. And lands about four inches to the left of the top target.
It’s happening again. It’s fucking happening again. I did this all a couple of weeks ago in a similar shed in Stoneleigh. The first arrow on the top face hooks hard to the left. Frequently. Not the bottom faces. Just the top one. Sometimes I manage to drill it. Mostly, it hooks. The little aluminium bastard. That’s not all. Am getting weird up and down errors, which I thought were tuning problems I’d ironed out. Turns out, of course, they weren’t tuning problems. They were me problems. It’s not the gear, it’s the archer. Or it’s both together. Or one isn’t helping the other.
An end or two in, Chris Marsh comes over. They’ve texted Oh. Him and Ku Bonchan and some other members of the Hyundai Steel team never left Korea. They didn’t bother telling anyone. (Hyundai Steel are different from Hyundai Mobis, who did turn up to dominate the women’s line, and Hyundai Department Store, who are another set entirely). No one is quite sure why. It may be related to the complex fallout from the cancellation of the Seoul Open, which needless to say has caused embarrassment and blame across Korean archery circles.
It would have been nice to learn something from Oh, but I suspect would have needed to try and get it out of him over a beer. I cannot think straight. I cannot concentrate, at all. I have spent months horribly overworked and distracted, desperately trying to persuade my brain to do some deep level thinking, to quiet down. I’ve been getting weird shooting pains in my arms when I type, and I do an awful lot of typing. I’m getting them now, writing this. I’ve been getting strange flashes of pain across my shoulders. Because all I ever do is work; and any spare time is spent trying to work out a variety of complicated personal issues. Archery is a tool for self-examination, and sometimes it reveals too much. I have nothing left.
Five or six ends in, I have two misses, with all arrows going way low. I suddenly realise that my sight has almost fallen off. I bought it because I though it looked cool. It still does. But it’s going in the bin. Looking again at the carnage of the scorecard, there’s some half-decent archery hiding underneath the crappy misses and the struggling.
There was one particular flash of joy, one brief glimmer of something worth turning up for; on the back nine, I suddenly have a few seconds of clarity, pull confidently and hard, anchor strong, and get a crisp release. And, of course, the thing pings into the middle of the ten. Because it was right. Because I can do it right. I just seem to be incapable of making myself do it on cue.
I send down the last six just wanting it to be over. Once again, I have plugged in to a major open tournament thinking it will be the spur I need and the impetus to finally put enough work in and hold everything together. Once again: no. But I’ll keep giving it a go. I just don’t know exactly where I’ll draw it from. The well is completely dry at the moment, unless I can change some other things in my life.
I’m not feeling too sorry for myself. It’s good to realise just what you have in the tank. If I don’t know why my arrows are landing on the next face, I do know what I can do about some other things. The tool that reveals. And I’m not ungrateful that I have the money and the ability to go and do these things in the first place. It’s supposed to be fun, sure. The bits when I wasn’t standing on the line certainly were.
So I’m friends with Oh Jin Hyek on Facebook now. Afterwards, I message him. He replies that he can’t make it due to “a sudden schedule.”
Yeah, well, big fella. You’ve gotta show to get the points. I’m going to chalk this one down as a win. 🙂
Thanks to everyone I shot with, chatted to, hung out and travelled with. You were great.
Sara Lopez practices in the finals arena, Samsun 2018
It’s been a long day of brooding skies over the Turkish northern coastal city of Samsun, as the world’s first archery event to take place on a helipad had a day of familiarisation.
Competing are a set of athletes mostly familiar to anyone who has been even casually following international archery. The host country gets four places to go with the two they won by right, but Mete Gazoz and Yesim Bostan are serious contenders for a win on home soil, with former champion Demir Elmaagacli in the mix as well. No host nation has ever won the championship. That could well change very soon.
It’s an appropriate place to hold it, after a year in which Turkish archery fully stepped up to the world elite level, and not by accident – they have been seriously investing in their top level athletes, to the point where Mete and Yasemin Anagoz (new European champion, also competing here) now live for free in a five-star hotel in Antalya, as long as they go and and practice all day, everyday and win for their country – a side of the bargain they have held up.
But you’d give almost everyone here a shot, frankly. The quality in depth at the top level is astonishing, and I’m lucky to be here to watch it. There are a few clouds on the horizon: the arena is huge and people are worried it can be filled, plus there is a gigantic thunderstorm apparently brewing for Recurve Sunday. Let’s see what comes down the line.
Demir Elmagaacli has the sort of overstated features that are almost ridiculously handsome. Kind of the sort of handsome that would reach to the back of a dark theatre.
If you zoom on Mauro Nespoli’s bow, it’s got some hashtags scratched into it when him and David Pascqualucci were bored in Yankton.
It also says ‘Nesp Edition’ on his bow. Fivics must have got busy.
Ksenia Perova was looking in that kind of ‘fuck you’ mood that’s part of the reason why she usually wins. I can’t deny the urge to watch her have a third showdown with Hyejin – which the brackets will allow.
So Chaewon looking like a total badass. Also had that kind of aggressive spark about her practice that said ‘I want to to win this’.
Archery as lifestyle choice rather than abject passion. Not that there’s anything massively wrong with that. It’s telling that archery is interesting enough to hang an aesthetic off, and sticking some foam on the wall is enough to let interiors types call something an ‘archery range’, rather than just ‘shooting in your backyard’. Full marks for the bullshit geometric chalk symbol for something to aim at though (and I love what they’ve done with their bookshelves).
The guy describes them as having a “school of archery”, which is apparently self-proclaimed. If I was being a cynical man, I would say that they watched that video of Paolo Coelho shooting on his roof every morning and thought ‘that would fit in well with our all-black Brooklyn moneyed goth-Orientalist hipster lifestyle’, although I’m not sure how a compound fits in with that. You have the onsen bath, but not the kyudo bow?
But I’m not. I’m totally down with archery-as-meditation or simply as a tool for exposing something else, rather than sport, but chappie here doesn’t actually look that comfortable with a bow. I’m guessing it was her idea.
New iPhones are out, and boom, Apple snuck some half-assed archery in there with their latest ad spot.
Mr. Rugged Barebow Guy is such a faker. Look, he’s left the sight block on that Hoyt riser, and he’s drawing to under his chin, sorta. On the plus side, a real Beiter button, a real carbon arrow and a real hand position suggest he’s actually an archer. That’s a novelty. Except the string is nowhere near his nose. BEST method? They got a recurve guy in and made him take the stabs and sight off so it would look more ‘real’? Got it.
If you watch the actual ad below, the bow tilts forward like a normal recurve with a long rod on the front. It doesn’t react like a barebow. In fact, you can just see the stab if you look very carefully. So, ah, what’s that then?
He hit the middle first time, from all the way over there with a barebow! You choose a) he’s really good b) pile of target faces, shoot from 2 metres, c) CGI d) some combination of the above.
Minor Apple rant: I’m fully tied into the Apple ecosystem, and I’m typing this on a Mac, although I think the Watch is the dumbest thing an archer could stick on their wrist. Having said that, I’m not unique in thinking Apple has lost its way as the innovative company that Steve Jobs built; the focus is now entirely on business and profit and features and competitors, rather than innovation, user experience, and making the customer feel valued. Not that this will stop people buying iPhones, but it does mean they are now more vulnerable to another brand coming along and stealing their top-of-the-market custom.
Apple used to be famous for its marketing too, its best known works being the 1984 advert and the Think Different campaign. Now even its ad spots look generic. Using a snap shot of an archer hitting the target is as generic as it gets. When you are using the same iconography used to sell milk to millenials and Drakkar Noir, amongst dozens of others over the years, it strongly suggests you aren’t in the innovation business anymore.
Don’t they look happy about it? Nope. North Korea’s Kang Un Ju and Pak Yong Won lost their mixed team recurve gold medal match against Japan in Jakarta at the Asian Games this morning.
The winners of the recurve mixed team events in all the sub-Olympic continental competitions will now qualify two spots – one man, and one woman – for Tokyo. The final this morning saw the team of Takaharu Furukawa and Sugimoto Tomomi show the exceptional quality they have been displaying all year, notably when they beat Korea in Antalya, and they ended up thumping the DPRK 6-0. However, Japan will qualify automatically as hosts just as long as they contest the world championships next year, which is more than a certainty. I mean they would swim to get to the Netherlands if necessary.
So the DPRK’s Kang Un Ju and Pak Yong Won will actually be the first archers to qualify for the Olympics – although technically, this cannot be officially announced until next year and World Archery can’t broadcast it. I can though. Whee. From their faces though, I think they’d rather have the Asian Games title. Someone who was there said “I’ve never seen two people pack up their bow cases that quickly.” You hope they won’t have to go off to some sort of camp somewhere and have to explain why they lost. For the next five years.
The nicest thing of all was: watching the feed early this morning, I thought I heard some familiar voices shouting familiar things. In the background, you could just see several members of the (South) Korean team, loudly cheering on their northern counterparts. I wasn’t sure, but I sent a message to someone in their camp, who said: “Yes, absolutely. We were one country.” The Asian Games seems to be a regular stage for this cross-border sentiment; this year saw the first gold medal won by a unified Korea team, in the very grand sport of dragon boat racing. The last outing, in Incheon in 2014, saw the crowds at a North Korea v South Korea football match chanting “we are one” at the pitch. There have even been abandoned attempts at getting the archery teams to train together.
If Korean unification happens in our lifetimes (and I’m increasingly thinking it probably will) as usual, sport will play a vital role in breaking down symbolic barriers, before and after.
Pic via Sik News
It seems Ki Bo Bae, after originally saying she wouldn’t commentate, has once again picked up the microphone to commentate for KBS on the Asian Games, just as she did four years ago in Incheon. Perhaps a very large cheque was involved. She has confirmed that she is definitely not packing up her bow yet and will be trying for Tokyo, although there is still no official word on the now-multiply-confirmed rumour that the newly married Bo Bae has – how can I put this – another rather big non-archery event happening this year? Is that subtle enough for everyone? 🙂
It’s difficult to express how frustrated I am with archery at the moment. Nothing seems to be going right. Nothing. Because it is a sport that demands far more time that I can give it, and consistently reminds you when you are not paying it the attention that it deserves.
My only goal, really, is to perform at the best of my ability and deliver at a reasonable level. That’s all anyone can do, right? Yeah. Well, I seem to be unable to do even that. I don’t expect to be able to keep up with internationals. I expect to be able to execute a shot with at least reasonable consistency and it produce some kind of a group when I go and actually perform. Sadly, that just seems to always just fall out of reach. So I’m left in a situation where I am hoping not to finish last, hoping not to collapse completely. That’s not really where you want to be for an international tournament. I’m completely out of my depth. And it’s no longer funny.
This has been compounded by a lack of practice, but this time, not through want of trying. The outdoor practice sessions at the club near where I live start and finish too early for when I finish work – I can barely get 45 minutes shooting in and I don’t have any say in the distance (long story). So I currently have a sightmark for 80 yards, but not for 70 metres. What a fucking amateur. I tried, a while ago, to contact a club much nearer my workplace who shoot on weekday evenings, but in typical UK archery style, no one bothered answering my email. And today, I tried to go out to my club in London, but I don’t have a key to our outdoor ground anymore and nobody wanted to come out and play in the drizzle. I can’t set up a boss at home – it’s just not big enough and the ceilings are too low. So in the short term, I am massively underrehearsed.
I hate the fact that I’m relying on a pile of components, all of which are mission critical, and I don’t have enough spares which I am sure are all working and shot in and identical and so on. I hate the fact that I can’t tune a bow properly, despite following instructions to the letter, because I’m always second guessing myself and there’s always something I’ve missed and all the sets of instructions are different and apparently don’t take things like different arrow rests into account. Oh yeah. Arrow rests. I hate arrow rests.
what is this I can’t even
I hate fletching arrows. Someone was kind enough to sit down with me a few months ago and teach me a nearly foolproof method for fletching recurve arrows, just before I went to Vegas. Brilliant. A process. Repeatable! I followed it to the letter a couple of nights ago, or so I thought. The results look ham-fisted and clunky. With a couple of vanes to go the stupid jig lost its little ball, the one that guides the turns through 120 degrees. It rolled under the sofa and down the floorboards. I jam the last couple on and heave the fletching jig, with its shitty design and worse instructions, into the bin. I have eight working arrows, and a bareshaft. If there was time, I would have done it properly. There isn’t time.
I hate the fact that I’m still slightly over-bowed. Not much, but enough to fuck up the last few ends of any session. It’s fine, until it’s not, then I want to throw the thing on the floor. I’ve managed to put in some strength work at home, but not much. My shot is finally coming together, thanks to Kate, my coach, but everything around it… sheesh.
One of the reasons I like archery it because I find it very difficult, because it forces me to think and do things in a certain way. And I chose to do this tournament. Nobody forced me. But I wanted to. And I’m finding it so difficult to enjoy it and make it part of my life, because it seems to always force you back to square one all the time. I’m a really busy person, and I want to shoot as an escape valve. Every time, right now, it seems to throw something in the way, and I don’t have the seemingly endless amounts of time needed to patiently work through all the technical and physical problems. (I’m not the most patient person in the world with a lot of things).
There are no excuses. I know. But I manage to organise my life in many other ways no problem; editing a magazine, running a household, commuting and working a job, cooking and cycling and being with people and having a life. I want archery as part of that too, but not to be everything. Enough to go and have fun with it. It’s lost a lot of joy at the moment. And I have to go and shoot this week and be embarrassed by people who are better than me, because I thought I could be better too. And I’m not. And I hate that.
I took the above picture, as the sun blazed across Europe, because I had a privileged position of access at the World Cup in Berlin 2018, and also because that’s the sort of pictures I like taking. The anticipatory moment, which was lucky enough to be framed and lit by the south stand for spectators. I took a similar pic of a few other squads, but that one turned out best. Is almost needless to say, but they delivered the goods. Collectively, no one yet comes even close. That’s just the women, though. The men are a different matter.
The non-business end of the Berlin World Cup takes place in the vast expanse of the Olympic Park, built of course for the 1936 Olympics, when Germany was ruled by the Nazis under Hitler. It’s the first World Cup to take place in a specifically Olympic spot, even if there was not an archery competition in 1936 (or any Olympics between 1920 and 1972). Berlin is a city that brims over with history, but is ultimately shaped by the 20th century, when large parts were destroyed and then partitioned until 1989, when the wall came down, in one of the more extraorinary events of the last 100 years. Possibly the defining post-war event in world history and political terms. And no city on Earth has dealt with, and rebuilt, a complex past quite like Berlin.
I’ve only been here briefly once before, but I’m already itching to go back. An extraordinary place. You can of course, hold a archery competition in a field pretty much anywhere, but thankfully, it’s here, in this immense arena. The finals are held at the park by the standing remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof, the former main train station of Berlin, a historical victim of both war and partition. You feel like archery is carving, very lightly, a new chapter somewhere. We’re not even alone here; the monolithically beautiful curves of the Olympiastadion play host to megastar Ed Sheeran during the week, whose soundcheck on Wednesday afternoon politely disturbs the competition. Even one of the guys who is working on the video wall is sitting there reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. It’s a classy bunch.
The ranking ultimately brings few surprises, and the recurve team rounds are notable mainly for the punching-vastly-above-their-weight performance of Great Britiain’s recurve women. After qualifying a dreary 17th, they surprised themselves by beating a bemused host nation in a shootff, before staying consistently high against China and, astonishingly, beating Chinese Taipei, the second best team in the world, in the semi final with ends of 57, 55, 56, and 54 before winning a shootoff with 27 versus 26. A friend watching said “I don’t know who looked more stunned at the end – GBR or Taipei.”
It was a rock-solid display that came, apparently, out of nowhere. They couldn’t produce anything quite like that on the finals field, but they gave a reasonable showing against the best in the world.
Taipei have had a difficult time of it recently, with relatively mixed (by their standards) results and Tan Ya Ting once again failing to get over the semi-final hurdle and into a position that her ranking and consistency should easily have won her a major tournament by now. As their coach said in Antalya: “Each time, we should be facing Korea for the gold medal.” They weren’t far off.
But more was to come. The USA failed to put a recurve archer into the finals for the second time this year, and questions are increasingly being asked of the Olympic programme as the buildup to Tokyo starts – not to mention two of their best-known compound archers having a very public row on the qualification field. You get the feeling not all is right with the camp right now. Or several other camps, by the sounds of it.
In the recurve finals, Korea’s men faltered, losing all their matches – and two to their greatest Asian Games rivals, Chinese Taipei. In fact, Taipei ended up matching them for total golds. Wei Chen Hung exorcised some no-doubt painful memories of losing to Im Dong Hyun in Mexico at the World Championships, by producing, against him, one of the greatest shootoff arrows ever seen on a finals field. Earlier, the Korea of Hyejin and Woo Seok were pretty dreadful in their mixed team match. Didn’t seem to be much interest in winning it, to be honest. Once again, Wei delivered.
Most of the audience were there to see Lisa Unruh, without question the biggest bums-on-seats draw here, and facing World Cup gold medal match neophyte Lee Eun-Gyeong – who displayed all the talent we have been hearing about for years to demolish her 6-0. A angry-looking Lisa, after opening with a strong ten, never really got any momentum up on home turf and in her home town. It was a real shame, just as she seems to be hitting her stride. But Eun-Gyeong was special, the most special of her team this tournament.
Australia had a good day at the office, winning two matches and giving Taylor Worth a berth in Samsun – despite a catastrophic judging mistake in the men’s team match against the Kazakhs. But the day belonged to Mete Gazoz, who turned in a champion’s performance against Lee Woo Seok in a match that almost surpassed the Korean masterclass in Antalya this year for quality.
I wish I could say more about the compound matches, but they were struggling to hold my interest, to be honest, and the general in-fighting, paranoia, and bullshit that occasionally accompanies that side of the sport seemed to be in full effect. Apart from a diverting men’s gold match, nothing else I watched (and I didn’t watch every team event) delivered much spectacle. Come on, compound. You can sometimes knock it out of the park. Not here. It has set up an exciting looking slate for Samsun, once everyone has enjoyed themselves at the World Field champs in Cortina. Maybe we’ll get something really unexpected. Maybe.
Thanks to Nick Taylor-Jones and everyone I hung out with.
pic via https://www.instagram.com/sarahholstsonnichsen/
It was a little difficult to engage fully with the Salt Lake stage of the World Cup this year, living in Europe, as due to someone’s frankly ropey idea of scheduling, the individual matches started past midnight. As a stage, it doesn’t seem to have taken off quite as everyone was hoping; apart from the coverage and the sparse audience, an increasing number of teams skipped it this year and the winds seemed even more capricious than the 2017 outing. No one wants to watch a lottery; although it was noticeable how the very, very best always have less trouble with the wind than others.
But this caught my eye when I was looking through the qualification results. Sarah Sonnichsen, who became the world number one compound archer last year, shot just two arrows out in the desert, then packed up her bow.
Anyone who has been following either of her Instagram feeds this year could not have failed to notice something wrong. She finally put a post up yesterday morning, which I’m going to quote in full:
“This is going to be a very long and honest post. As a lot of people have noticed my score from Salt Lake City is not there and there’s a reason why you can’t see it. As many people also know I’ve really been struggling the past half year or so. I wasn’t feeling good in China, I quit Redding, Turkey was a fight for me and Salt Lake was just too much. 😕 After Turkey I actually took two weeks off from shooting to get some help and I thought I was ready for Salt Lake so that’s why I went here thinking I could handle it but when we had to shoot qualification, the wind was just insane and feeling this way plus the wind and on top of that having a really bad flu was just way too much for me to handle and I completely broke down. No one and I really mean no one should feel the way I felt standing on the shooting line having a complete panic attack.☝🏼 So no I didn’t shoot Salt Lake.
And because of everything there’s going on with me right now I will also be taking a break when I get home. Not from shooting because I still enjoy shooting; I still want to shoot, but I will be taking a break off from shooting competitions for a while until I get my head back to where it’s supposed to be and until I feel completely ready and I get this under control again. I can’t say for how long but I know this is something I have to do for myself. I know I can shoot. I know I’m a good archer. Right now my head is just not in a place where I can shoot what I’m capable of which has shown on most of my results the past 1/2 year. And yes it sucks and I should probably have done this before. But now I’m doing what I need to do to feel better. And hopefully I’ll come out even stronger in the end and I’ll be back to shooting what I’m capable of!😆
People who know me knows this is a really tough decision for me. I’m not good at feeling ‘weak’ and taking a break from archery is not something I’ve ever done before. I usually just push through it. But this time I’ve realized I can’t just push through it. My mind and body is just saying no. I need to take care of myself right now but don’t worry! You guys aren’t gettin rid of me so easy. I will be back!🤣”
It’s a salient reminder that archery as a sport doesn’t exist in a bubble, and depression and mental illness can strike anyone, anywhere, no matter how effective or successful or professional. People are archers, but they are also human; and they have plenty more to deal with as well as competition. Given it is a sport which relies on a iron-cast mental game, raised at will to compete at the highest level, it makes me wonder just how many other archers are suffering (I know of at least two others dealing with similar issues in one way or another).
I hope its needless to say, but everyone is looking forward to seeing Sarah back in competition as soon as she’s well enough to compete.
Antalya has been and gone, and for archery fans, was a far more gripping spectacle than Shanghai. Holding the competition a few weeks earlier than normal spares the peleton from the beginnings of the worst of the summer coastal heat, when temperatures of 40°C are not unknown. A steady-ish 28°C is about the limit of what you can sit outside all day and still function at the highest level (that’s me, not the archers) and it turned out that you can do a lot of special things when everything is just right, as the recurve qualification results came in on Monday afternoon, just as the sun started dropping behind the stadium, as the light started to spread.
I’m watching the scores come in like boats returning to harbour, and two names: Kim Woojin and Kang Chae Young, are consistently above the red line that indicates the world record average. And they stay there. I run to the men’s end of the field with cameraman Gwenael to get the story. Woojin had been shooting one of the most extraordinary back nines ever. He needed 59 from his last six arrows to break his own world record, set in similar warm, still conditions at the Sambodromo. His teammates knew it, and began taking the piss as he went up to the line. Ron van der Hoff was kind enough to sit on his scope and called them for me.
First arrow is a nine. Woojin’s face twitches. That slightly quizzical look he’s good at. Second arrow… is a nine, and he rolls his eyes. It did and didn’t mean something. No world record. I see the next arrow, which is clearly shot like he couldn’t give a **** where it ends up. He basically throws the last end away, and it’s still a 352 for a total of 697, which would match the fourth highest score in history. And he’s pissed off.
“Tell me you’re happy!”
We run back to the women’s side, where Kang Chae Young isn’t choking, not for anybody. I watched two of her earlier ends. She looked relaxed, but in a curiously placid way. Just accepting the result. No emotion. Just process. And quick. At one point she was seven points above the world record average.
The finale isn’t dramatic, and ‘just’ a 57. But “The Destroyer” has – very quietly – annihilated the world record. She looks as surprised as everybody else. Her scorecard is relentlessly consistent. Relentless consistency is Chae Young’s stock in trade, and relentless consistency is rewarded in the Korean system, which filters potential frontline teams via multiple gruelling selection tournaments, prizing stamina over flash-in-the-pan brilliance (she rarely finished top of any one day, but didn’t ever finish bottom either). And on this rather lovely afternoon, the least diva-like, most unassuming member of the squad pushes the women’s world record to within 1.3% of the men’s mark.
It wasn’t Bob Beamon’s long jump, but most archery things that are truly remarkable by the sport’s standards are done quietly. It’s something when one of our greater sporting achievements in the last few years is achieved by someone who includes ‘making soap’ as one of their hobbies.
The record that Woojin matches, the fourth* highest ranking round score in history, was shot by Brady Ellison in Shanghai in 2016. Brady Ellison in Antalya in 2018 is not happy. Despite qualifying well, the painful finger problems that have dogged him over the last season and sank the boat in Vegas and Yankton are still there. How are your fingers, Brady? “I’m ready to quit!” he snarls at me. “I’ve shot 100 arrows since Shanghai.” He’s told me (and many other people) several times over the past few years that he intends to quit recurve and return to shooting compound.
Song Yun Soo
But recently, the double-bowing at the Gator Cup and his apparently endemic injury issues seem to indicate he might be serious. If he did, it would leave USA recurve in an even more parlous state, to say the least. I don’t think I’m out of line by saying it’s not looking very strong in depth right now, two years out from Tokyo. There is a lot of work to do to get two USA teams qualified next year.
The rest of the qualification rounds are relatively unremarkable. By the time Friday rolls around, the glorious sunshine has given way to thunder and rain, soaking the first couple of rounds on Baki Beach, a few miles further down the coast than the normal venue, which is being reconstructed. The Korean men take clinical, disciplined revenge on the USA for Shanghai. It’s an incredibly controlled, classy display. The USA’s cause is not helped by Braden Gellenthein, anchoring, who has decided to shoot a brand new bow. Which he set up last night. And seems to be only capable of shooting nines. He falls apart, and Kris goes with him. It’s carnage.
Then Yeşim Bostan finally breaks her ‘silver medal curse’ and wins on the beach, in front of deafening home support. It’s no secret that her attempts so far have been sunk by terrible performance anxiety; her qualification rounds have been clinical, but on a stage, she’s had trouble – e.g. this shootoff arrow in Rome, if you can bear it. There was only the tiniest hint of the same nerves on the beach, although she didn’t make it look easy. I think now that she’s got past that, the rest of this year may bring some serious silverwa… some serious titles. (I also think Tan Ya Ting might go on a winning run when she finally takes a major gong). The day finishes with a horrible gold match between Mike Schloesser and Kris Schaff that neither of them, apparently, want to win. Compound at its most neurotic and depressing.
Recurve Saturday brings bizarre winds, and endless second guessing. I took some pictures. The wind is coming from the sea, but the arrows are posting to the right. Also, the way the venue is set up gives a kind of optical illusion to the horizon. Archers seem to be leaning to compensate. The local crew have done pretty well, but it’s pretty difficult making a completely flat arena on a sloping stone beach. Almost a field archery problem. Germany’s women, once they get going, are only narrowly beaten by Korea, who are barely better.
The GBR men take a deserved medal against Malaysia, helped along by the collapse of the Malay second shooter. The Brits had to change their flight as they were booked to return Saturday; ArcheryGB apparently deciding that it was unlikely that any of them would make a final. I’ve long mulled over the financial and psychological ramifications of doing this. The team looks good. Seems like there must be better options available. Then Japan’s men push Korea’s men hard, especially in the last two sets. The result is as expected, but something seems to be in the air.
Turkey thump Chinese Taipei in recurve for a bronze. It’s a stunning coup really. They deserve it. They outshoot them. Then the real upset comes, as Japan sweep aside Korea for mixed team gold. Hyejin looks exhausted. There’s something in her face, waiting to go on, that says she doesn’t want to be there. Like, she’s had enough. Japan look great, Korea look bad.
Then Lei Chien-Ying, who seems to be de facto captaining the Taipei women these days, looked incredibly confident and dominant in her dismantling of Lee Eun-Gyeong. Probably, quietly, the performance of the day. Watch it again. She knows she’s going to win. Two losses, and she walks back on like she has it won anyway.
When Perova walks on, you could sort of sense the repeat of Mexico waiting to happen, and after the first end, you pretty much knew it was going to. I’ve written before about Perova, and her brutalist approach to archery; her technique is ugly, but effective, and she seems to be utterly free of any self-doubt whatsoever at one crucial moment: whenever she steps onto the line. It may be a Russian cliche, ‘do or die’. But it works. And so it proves. It’s a scrappy, dreadful match really, and by the denoument, you just knew the shoot-off was only going one way. Perova defends her title, and Korea have lost three recurve finals in a row.
Chang just looks glad that it’s over. The Korean Archery Association, in their infinitely opaque wisdom, have decided that she and Woojin are the mixed team this year, not basing it on ranking round scores like most (but not all) archery nations.
The problem is that if she has to pull a triple shift like today – team, mixed team and individual – the familiarity of the arena is outweighed by the exhaustion of maintaining focus over such a long day of shooting, outdoors, in the heat, with all the noise and expectation around you. It’s a lot of weight on some very tiny shoulders.
The day before, So Chaewon had had to pull a quadruple shift: team, mixed team, individual and then make-up retouched and back out to accept the Longines prize. A lovely problem to have, but the poor girl was sitting with her head in her hands by the end. It’s more work that it looks.
The day finishes with the Korean men putting on a masterclass, and a showcase match of almost sublime quality between Lee Woo Seok and Kim Woojin. The sight of three white shirts on the podium rather smooths over the fact that Korea lost three in a row. I twice watched an assembly of archers and coaches from [major archery nation] cheering loudly when Korea got thumped. You felt the actual quality hadn’t gone, but the big Asian and other nations that can match them in technique must be emboldened. Their knack of just winning seemed to desert them.
It remains, of course, to be seen whether any of the other Asian squads will be able to ‘do the big job’ and snatch gold in Jakarta. But some of the spell seemed have gone away by the end of the day. Korea will be absent from the Salt Lake stage. Which means Berlin will be very interesting indeed.
So many other things I could tell. Which [famous archer] ‘forgot’ to do their media interview, and left the venue, despite the interview having been pre-sold to [name of TV channel] in [country] and had to be ‘recalled’ by a rather important member of the archery community? Who got involved in a thrilling altercation at an airport? Which [gender] team from [major archery nation] finished Saturday pounding so many beers by the Rixos pool that two of them had to walk one of their very unsteady coaches back to their room? But unfortunately, I’m bound by the same rules that apply to bands: what happens on tour, stays on tour. You’ll just have to wait till I see you next. 🙂
*This originally said that it was the third highest score in history. Thanks to Nick Taylor-Jones for pointing out that the third highest was Kim Bubmin’s 698 at London 2012, unfortunately and unluckily overshadowed by Im Dong-Hyun breaking the record with 699 at the same event.