45 years ago, the World Archery Championships were held in Grenoble, France. I came across these photos from the archive of Mikhail Peunov, who competed for the Soviet Union at the 1972 Olympics, finishing 12th. They were uploaded by Seva Masyakin on the fabulous 1960s and 1970s Archery page on Facebook, and I have added some of his annotations. They evoke a very different era of archery indeed.
The news this morning that the 74 year old pensioner shot with a crossbow bolt on Good Friday has died is the latest and most appalling in a long line of recent incidentswithcrossbowsintheUK. Easy to buy on the internet, and popular with people looking for an no-training weapon in a country that has very strict gun legislation, crossbows have been the idiot’s choice for decades. Of course, there have been accidents with bows and arrows, but the learning curve puts off the very worst kind of idiot. Not so with crossbows, unfortunately.
Crossbows are not ‘archery’. The narrow definition of archery is a bow and an arrow, whereas a crossbow fires a bolt. Taking a broader perspective, crossbow shooting shares elements with archery (especially historically), and some elements with gun/rifle shooting, but at the same time it is neither of those things. It sits awkwardly across the two.
There is a small but very dedicated target crossbow shooting sector in the UK, but only in a few tiny corners of the target archery world do bows and crossbows stand together. ArcheryGB covers crossbows in their rules of shooting, although they certainly don’t shout about it. They are banned on a very large number of archery ranges.
In my capacity as an British archery journo, about a year ago I was asked to go on BBC Radio as part of a debate with a regional MP who wanted crossbows further restricted from sale, after a previous incident. It was entirely clear from the tone of the email that they wanted someone from the ‘archery’ world who could provide a pro-crossbow point-of-view, in the name of the essential ‘balance’ that these things invariably require. I was more annoyed that someone could conflate the two things, although I don’t blame the harassed researcher directly. (I politely declined).
I’ve occasionally had messages from arbalists believing that we should all stand together as bow-shooting sports or what have you. The problem with this is that archery as a sport has maintained, in the public’s eyes, a near spotless image recently, contributing to its rise in the last few years, and the associated TV exposure and so on. Crossbows remain associated with appalling news headlines and criminality, and subject to range bans and increasing legislation. Which is a shame. But not surprising.
I am absolutely sure all the dedicated crossbow target shooters out there are committed to the sport, and to safety and to maintaining a safe image. Good luck out there.
Sorry guys, but in 2019, you’re on your own. Archery has everything to lose and little to gain from having you in the fold. It’s not because of you, per se. Unfortunately, it’s because there are too many idiots in the world.
At last year’s Berlin World Cup, Chinese Taipei took a major Korean tournament scalp when their men’s team beat the guys in white with a spectacular final ten from anchor Wei Chun Heng – a match-up repeated, with the same result, for far higher stakes at last year’s Asian Games in Jakarta.
After following this sport for many years I can now hum the national anthem of the Republic of Korea on cue, but I had never heard the Chinese Taipei national anthem. It turned out to be serviceable, generic, and forgettable. Which is not that surprising, because ultimately it is a placeholder, or perhaps a kind of musical fig leaf. The anthem, the flag and the name ‘Chinese Taipei’ are all deliberately and carefully chosen to not quite mean anything at all.
The island of Taiwan as an independent entity became so after a civil war in China that raged in the late 1940s, and the mainland People’s Republic of China has never recognised the island, 110 miles off the coast, as a legitimate state.
The history of relations could fill several books, but the PRC has maintained its ‘One China’ stance for many decades, and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognises the Republic Of China, aka Taiwan, as an independent state. You say Taiwan exists, its bye bye trade, travel and everything else from mainland China. Because of this very real (and frequently carried out) threat, Taiwan today is still not officially recognised as an independent nation by most countries in the world, apart from a handful of developing countries and the Vatican, for reasons you can delve into yourself.
In practice, most developed nations maintain some kind of de facto diplomatic mission in Taiwan under the guise of a ‘trade federation’ or similar. An occasionally tense state of geopolitical equilibrium has developed, which appears to suit everyone in one way or another.
Cross-strait relations even spilled into archery. The former FITA president Francesco Gnecchi-Ruscone recounts a cunning bit of politicking he had to do involving Taiwan and mainland China in the 1970s, which you can find on the World Archery website. But in 1979, a cultural breakthrough happened when the International Olympic Committee passed what is known as the Nagoya Resolution, which allowed Taiwan to participate in Olympic sport.
To do so under the name ‘Taiwan’ would invite political disaster. The name Chinese Taipei was carefully chosen and negotiated to be deliberately ambiguous, implying it could be part of mainland China, yet separate – but perhaps not subordinate. (Taipei City is the Taiwanese capital). The name only exists in English; helpfully, the word ‘Chinese’ can refer to nations or just culture. A similarly ambiguous flag was developed with the Olympic rings, and a forgotten tune – not the official national anthem of Taiwan – was recycled as a ‘flag anthem‘, with new words stridently praising Olympism.
In Taiwan itself, out of direct edict or national pride, you will never see the words ‘Chinese Taipei’. The archery team’s international achievements are well-publicised, and their newspapers loudly trump: ‘Taiwanese archers won a medal…’ ‘Taiwan triumphs at World Cup….’.
The subterfuge may be accepted, but it is rarely mentioned, at least not in their English-language press. Issues of nationalism and independence continue to bubble away on both sides of the strait, and may not be resolved for many decades yet, despite the occasional recent bit of sabre-rattling.
I once asked a well-known member of the squad, via a translator, a roundabout question about what it was like to represent ‘Chinese Taipei’ and got a polite smile and a shake of the head ; unsurprisingly, there was absolutely zero chance of them talking about it.
For recurve archers, and many athletes, representing your country in the Olympics or another major tournament is the pinnacle of the sport. I don’t know what it feels like, when the current world number two team win and have to stand up in front of a flag and an anthem which represents a series of complicated, delicate political compromises, rather than themselves and whatever their sense of nationhood is. But I’d be interested to find out.
A version of this article originally appeared in Bow International magazine.
The stylised archer (above) is derived from the full set of pictograms designed by Nikolai Belkov, a graduate of the Mukhina Arts School in Leningrad. However, I’m not sure who came up with the chap below, who has a touch of the Egyptian warrior about him, with a decidedly up-the-revolution worker’s cap on top.
See the full set here. I particularly love the judo one, apparently unique amongst Olympic pictographic depictions in that it doesn’t show two fighters engaged in combat.
The Olympics aren’t the only time archery has appeared on matchboxes, as these covetable charmers from Finland and Poland, prove:
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? 🙂