It was pleasing to read that Sarah Sonnichsen, who hasn’t really been seen on the international circuit for two whole years, was spotted in Vegas shooting in the compound flights, where she put in a decent but not extraordinary 885. We last caught up with her here.
But essentially, she’s still completely quit, because she’s happier not doing it than doing it. Not many people right at the very top of the sport have straight-out quit before, but it’s an oddity and a shame that with female compound archers – the side of the sport with just a literal handful of professionals – it’s not been the biggest deal.
Whatever Sarah finishes up doing; you hope, of course, that it’ll make her happier than full-time archery, anyway. And also, that we shouldn’t forget the people who decide to hang up their bow forever.
Last month I was asked to contribute to World Archery’s archer of the decade piece, as a resident ‘expert’. It wasn’t easy making a choice, as there were more than a few options, and picking one archer across a sport divided forever into hard categories is, of course, impossible. However, four stand out across the two main WA bowstyles. The names will probably not surprise you, but I’m going to explain the why in a bit more detail, and why I think they should be in that particular order.
4. Mike Schloesser
Watching Mikey in full flow when scoring is remarkable. It’s a marked expression of archery at its simplest and most effortless. Indeed, scoring is without doubt his strongest point. Right in the middle of the decade, in Nimes, in January 2015, he became the first man to score 600 out of 600 in World Archery indoor competition, leading to the nickname Mr Perfect. (He repeated the feat last year). Twice a Vegas champion, in 2014 and 2017, he ends the second month of 2020 the World Cup champion and – as of yesterday at this writing – the indoor World Series champion too.
But this is the new decade. You don’t always get the very best of Mikey in straight competition, and in gold medal matches, particularly in the last year or so, he’s often seemed to be close to throwing it away, particularly on the very last arrow. Usually, however, he is far enough ahead that a terrible eight doesn’t matter. He’s already won. And one of his best qualities is a refreshing honesty about the nerves and neuroticism that infects competitors at the very top of the compound sport – sometimes to recover and fight again, sometimes not. Mikey seems to be constantly, but barely, keeping the demons at bay.
The list of achievements is long and extraordinary, and there appears to be no boogeyman, no-one that gives him the scares. Yet. It’s been mostly Mikey’s decade, but the competition at the highest men’s level is now so elevated that he hasn’t quite carved out the furrow that say, Reo Wilde managed. But that may still be to come.
3. Brady Ellison
The decade 2010-2019 is a tale of two Bradys. Archers with longer memories will remember his performances in 2010 and 2011, when he dominated the World Cup circuit like no one before, or since. You might remember his role in the classic men’s team final in London 2012. You might remember a lot of things.
But there was wilderness too, even when he was still making the business end of tournaments. Several times between 2016 and 2018, Brady suggested he was going to return to shooting compound, where he started, and often after a bad round or a rough competition. (He said it to my face at least once – I still have it on tape). He even shot a couple of US competitions using both compound and recurve. He suffered a parade of problems with his fingers, which almost caused him to quit. He complained about the set system as unfair, although that slowed down a bit after the 2016 World Cup Final. He sometimes changed bows every week, searching for something that brought him back to where he wanted to be. He was occasionally a stomping, snorting mess, but many of his outbursts, often shortly after matches, were clearly born out of deep frustration at not quite achieving the incredibly high standards he sets himself.
But all that was building towards an extraordinary 2019, where he essentially hit a kind of god-mode of recurve shooting. It was something approaching total mastery of the competitive side of the sport, and glorious to watch. Magnetic. One of the most enjoyable things about watching Brady shoot is the way he rides the waves of his emotions, he’s the very opposite of a cool, machine-like shooter. You can see this best in my single favourite photograph that Dean Alberga has ever taken.
In 2019, he seemed entirely in control of everything. He radiated, um, energy, projecting his control of matches ahead of time. He is also pretty much the only male archer the top Korean men actually fear to face – they’ve almost admitted as such.
Many people put Brady top of the list for the best of the decade, and I think a lot of that is based on his astonishing performance in 2019. They might be forgetting the rather more up and down years of the 2010s. He enters 2020 crushing it indoors, having apparently pulled Jack Williams almost up to his level, and pulling off a 900 with a recurve in Vegas, one of the more extraordinary achievements in his career. But we’re in a new decade now.
I can’t see Jack Williams or anyone else taking the single outdoor spot for men in Tokyo, which will be KiSik Lee’s swansong as a coach. If the USA men don’t qualify a team, and it’s just Brady, it will be a one man show. But on the current showing – and with the current mindset – he’s going to win it all. Isn’t he?
2. Sara Lopez
Sara López Bueno almost unstoppable ability to win matches, since she arrived on the scene in 2013, at times can seem almost supernatural. Pushed hard by the by the arrival of coach Heber Mantilla, she has been the star of one of the most successful elite programmes of all time, driving on a sheaf of world-class archers. Mantilla is apparently the perfect foil for the wilful, headstrong, and opinionated Lopez, and turned her into an almost demonic force on the line – ironic, for a God-fearing lady.
Easily my favourite thing about Sara Lopez is her defining lack of self-doubt when standing on the line at full draw. There are no questions, only answers. An no-return approach to execution. This is how it will be. It is only now (an approach shared by one of my favourite champions, Ksenia Perova). There is a quiet ruthlessness too; she hates to lose to anybody, because it gives them a psychological wedge in the door.
Lopez took over seamlessly from Erika Jones as the dominant woman in her sport, and it didn’t take long to firmly stamp her authority. In the years that followed, the record of titles and wins, world records, World Cups, stretches at number one et al is extraordinary, and unmatched by any other archer. I can’t even add them all up. Last year she added the Pan-American title in what seemed like a forgone conclusion. She once won 31 matches in a row, against all the top ten. She went unbeaten for an entire year. No one has a winning record against her. She has completely dominated her era. The Serena Williams of archery.
The fact she managed all this whilst being an off-on medical student is just ridiculous. Sometimes, it seemed the only opportunities the rest of the top ten got was when she had to knock off archery and go back to university for a while. It’s not surprising she kept up her studies – the opportunities to be a professional women’s compound archer are still pretty close to zero.
Yet you feel that her career will always remain incomplete without the senior outdoor world title, which has somehow eluded her in three attempts; most memorably in Copenhagen in 2015, when she fell to Crystal Gauvin in the semi-final. If she can bag that, she could retire like Park Sung Hyun, having won literally everything and carved a permanent, deep furrow in the sport.
I was lucky enough to be at the 2016 Odense World Cup Final, and with a ringside seat for the final match between Ki Bo Bae and her teammate Choi Misun. It wasn’t the greatest battle ever seen, but there was a moment. Ki Bo Bae put in a ten, the first for a while. (I think it’s this one). Her hand dropped to her right hip, and clenched with incredible aggression. You could see her wrist shaking. It was a tiny gesture, but it said everything about the urge to win. A competition she had already won once, and in a year she had already taken more Olympic medals than any other archer. The implacable urge to triumph, to control.
It was a little echo of the tearful press conference after her double gold at London 2012, and the bland translation of an answer to a question about her last arrow: “A Korean does not shoot an eight.” What she really meant was that she didn’t shoot eights. Bo Bae mostly kept her vicious competitive streak under wraps behind a mask of beaming professionalism, but just occasionally, it would leap to the surface. Her technique, with her unusual ability to snap her shoulders right behind her body, is the model of perfect, relaxed repetition.
It took her many years in the Korean system to shine, but eventually Ki Bo Bae came closer than most to the most fabled prize in archery yet to be won in 120 years – defending an individual Olympic title. In trying, she ratcheted up three Olympic golds and a bronze, much more than anyone else. She also became world champion in 2015, took two Universiade crowns and three World Cup Final wins, and became the engine and anchor behind countless Korean women’s team victories too – and survived falling out of the national system for a year to make a spectacular comeback in Rio, something managed by none of her peers.
On top of the unarguable results, she brought a celebrity quality to a sport which sometimes lacks for star power. People turned out to see her as they turn out to see Brady.
Shortly after her World Cup Final win in 2017 she got married and started a family. There’s a lot of archers with young children on the elite lines, but it’s really only the Koreans whose team spots are under relentless pressure from a youth system generating ever better athletes. Recent events seem to show her career fading out; crying in interviews and an ignominious exit at an early stage from the Olympic trials for Tokyo, robbing the archery world of a truly incredible story arc. If she did quit – and you suspect she must be contemplating it at least – she would have to retire without an individual Asian Games title, and thus not completing the fabled ‘triple crown’ of Korean archery (only apparently achieved by Park Sung Hyun, the greatest of all time), although she did win the Asian Games team title back in 2010.
We’re really talking about different worlds, when trying to pick the very best of the decade; it is almost impossible to compare compound with recurve. But recurve archery is ultimately measured by the summer Olympics, and Ki Bo Bae’s record of three golds and a bronze, plus the world champs and many others, triumphs over all. If Lopez had been world champion, she would have been top, for sheer crushing dominance. If Brady had taken even a single Olympic gold to go with his other titles, it might well have been him. He is undoubtedly the archer’s archer, and its current biggest star. The next decade could be Mike’s. The next two decades could be Mike’s. But the choice is pretty clear. Ki Bo Bae is the archer of the decade.
Hidden amongst the stories from the Asian Championships and the South Asian Games in Nepal – Bhutan’s breakthrough among them – was this remarkable story about Ety Khatun, age 14, of Bangladesh, who escaped an arranged marriage at just 11 years old to become an archer. She took a gold medal, one of a host for Bangladesh at the SEA, cementing their reputation as one of archery’s most exciting emerging nations.
Ety Khatun, 14, the daughter of a sweet-seller, defied her parents attempts to marry her in 2016 as they struggled to get by in a remote village in western Bangladesh.
On Monday, Khatun won a third gold medal in archery at the South Asian games in Nepal, a rare sporting success for Bangladesh which has yet to land an Olympic medal.
“My parents wanted me to get married. I cried a lot and didn’t eat for two days. I forced them to send me to Dhaka to take part in an archery training camp,” Khatun told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Nepal.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, according to the United Nations.
The country has banned the practise and in 2018 launched a phone app to digitally verify the ages of brides and grooms.
Still, more than half of all girls are married before they are 18.
Khatun may have become one of them had she not been spotted by scouts from the Bangladesh Archery Federation.
“We had selected about 60 potential archers from various regions and she was one of them,” said national coach Ziaul Hoque.
Smaller in stature than her peers, many underestimated Khatun.
“Not much was expected from her,” Hoque said.
But she proved mentally strong, and, in 2018, won bronze at a national archery competition.
“That’s when my parents stopped pressurising me to get married,” said Khatun.
Today her parents back her and revel in her achievements.
Her father remains the family’s sole breadwinner, something Khatun hopes to change.
“(He) has allergy issues and can’t work in winters. If something happens to him we don’t know what we will do. I hope archery can help me support my family and bring peace to them,” she said.
Urging young girls from her village to follow her path she said: “If you work hard, anything is possible. If you are scared and sit back, nothing will work.”
You often forget, from a position in the West, that Olympic sport in many countries is an escape to other possibilities, rather than a choice; however driven. The doc about Deepika Kumari released a couple of years ago sheds a lot of light on the situation. It might be time for another watch.
So it seems that the upcoming Star Wars film The Rise Of Skywalker looks set to feature some #badarchery, with a character called Jannah, played by British actress Naomi Ackie, wielding a bow as part of the Resistance. This image came from a piece in Vanity Fair earlier this year.
Obviously her form is pretty horrible, but that’s par for the course. Perhaps it was just for the photo shoot. We’ll see what happens when the film comes out and if they’ve put any effort into making it look real. Not that it needs to be real. Just hopefully not actually stupid.
The bow is kind of interesting. At first glance it looks a little like a camless compound bow with a shoot-through riser, as found on a few target and hunting bows, e.g. this model from Bear:
But looking a little more closely it looks suspiciously like one left-hand and one right-hand recurve riser glued together. Risers are distinctive, and with thanks to everybody on my Facebook page who contributed, we even found out exactly what. It’s a pair of Initech 2 risers, sold by the Decathlon group – a chain of French sports stores found across Europe. They sell a variety of cheap own-label Chinese archery gear, and an Initech riser is yours for just €50.
So Jannah’s ‘energy bow’ really does appear to be just a couple of these epoxied together, with some ‘limbs’ stuck in the end (possibly broken off, reversed real recurve limbs?), some extras, and most likely an elastic string (if most other Hollywood archery is anything to go by). It’s even clearer if you look on this Star Wars ephemera website:
Still, I found myself enjoying the chutzpah and inventiveness of the props guys for sticking a cheap left hand and a cheap right hand together and coming out with something suitably steampunk and interesting looking – even if it saved them the bother of designing something from scratch. And maybe when the film comes out, it’ll all make some sense. Is Jannah going to be a heroine up there with Katniss? Who knows? But she’s going to hurt her elbow doing *that*, that’s for sure.
Ki Bo Bae is still clearly carrying some sway on Korean sports media, and was happy to do an interview, which ended up rather tearful at points. If you want the details, try reading this piece in translation, but the gist of it is: she is really genuine in her desire to continue as an athlete, but she’s finding combining motherhood and training very difficult indeed.
In the first stage of the selection process for Tokyo, an open tournament that cut to 64 at the end of August, she came 37th. With only three spots available, those hoping for the big comeback next year may have to start adjusting their expectations.
It’s tough at the top, and tougher for parents. There are now multiple parents of young children on the elite recurve lines, including Taylor Worth, Ksenia Perova, Inna Stepanova, Taru Kuoppa, Lidiia Sichenikova, Alexandra Mirca, Lee Seungyun and Oh Jin Hyek to name but a few. Perhaps the greatest Korean Olympic archer of all, Kim Soo Nyung was a parent of two children when she made her comeback to win team gold at Sydney 2000, although you could argue that that was in an era where there was [slightly] less competition for the three crucial spots.
It’s difficult to imagine a ferocious competitor like Bo Bae giving up, but perhaps her life has shifted onto a different track now.
It’s Wednesday afternoon in Den Bosch, and it’s been pissing it down all morning. Ninety-six recurve archers have been preparing for one of the most important matches of their lives on a practice field in horrible rain and near black skies.
This is, of course, the medal match that decides forty eight of the places for the Tokyo Olympics. For the majority of the archers who have never been, it’s probably even more important than their performance at the Olympics itself. Going to the Games remains the high point for a great many archery careers, and long after you pack away the bow for the final time, it’s the badge that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It’s the thing that matters to the rest of the world. A bronze medal at the worlds will matter to the people on this field, your peers. But becoming an Olympian is what matters to everyone else, forever. And chances are, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen right here, right now.
It’s unfair, of course. It’s judging you on a handful of arrows, out of the million plus you might post over a long archery career. You are reliant not just upon yourself, but the weakest shooter, that day, of the three of you going up to the line. Maybe the weakest shooter is you, and you know it, and it could be you grinding someone else’s dreams into the dust.
There’s a lot more riding on it for everyone else around you. Coaches, especially. It’s highly likely to change the course of their career, for better or worse. It may change national government funding for the next four years, or forever. It might change the entire course of the sport in your country. For a lot of the people around you, this match is more important than whatever you might manage to produce on a field in Tokyo next July. Expectations is putting it mildly.
So all the energy of this immense, partially rained-out gathering of hundreds of archers from across the world, for the first few days is going directly towards this single team match. For those that have made it, without being too hyperbolic, the fate of nations hangs upon them.
The rugby field that hosts the qualification is damp and cramped and there is barely enough space for everything; archers, coaches, bows and scopes; it’s hard to move. Because of the number of things to cover, the media team have split up into bases, and I don’t get to choose what I want to see. For the men’s matches, I get to watch Chinese Taipei vs France, and India vs Canada, close up, first hand. You can almost smell the testosterone in the air by the time the warm-up arrows have gone down. But you also see the flickers of fear on everyone’s face.
I try to take photographs, but nothing captures the archery-on-steroids noise of what follows. Guys you normally see well controlling their emotions – Atanu Das, Pierre Plihon – become snorting, screaming charging bulls, every release marked with a vent of energy, fists not tapped, but smashed against each other. Behind me is a row of tents, and behind that a noisy rail of every nation screaming encouragement. Taipei, normally quite a disciplined lot, look like they are letting out demons.
India punch and scream their way to a victory over the Canadian men, who have actually shot superbly, with a 58 in the third set. But they don’t have Tarundeep Rai anchoring, who is on goddamn fire. India deserved the win, but Canada didn’t deserve to lose, you could say. Rough. They knew they were good.
But it’s roughest on the French men. All but one of their 24 arrows first goes in the yellow, but just a few too many are nines. You can tell Valladont – who is dressed, it must be said, like a village idiot – is struggling a little, still carrying the trace of an injury that sidelined him throughout 2018. Taipei pull more tens out, and their tiebreak is confident and aggressive. But it isn’t fair. It’s not a performance to be ashamed of. But it’s not there.
The women come out. On my right, India v Belarus. From the whistle, something is wrong. India shoot a miss. Their second stringer Komalika Bari has something wrong with her armguard. The coach runs in. In the second end, it happens again, and Bari puts two arrows low, in the black. Some minor technical problem, in the most important match of the last four years. Belarus, despite a couple of indifferent ends, are 4-0 up. India recover in the third, but you feel it’s over, and it is. To my left, again, we have Chinese Taipei vs. France. Taipei look ready to kill, and they open with a 57 against France’s 56. It sets the tone for the rest of the match. It’s done from there on in.
I walk to the target on the last end. Audrey Adiceom and Melanie Gaubil are looking at their final set of arrows like they are looking at an abstract painting in a art gallery, bemusedly trying to work out what it means. Hoping it might rearrange itself into something that made more sense. Across the field, I can see the German girls literally jumping in the air. It’s the first time they’ve qualified a full women’s team for the Olympics in twenty years. Deepika Kumari screams in Hindi at her teammate. I don’t know what she’s saying, but it’s pretty clear. People are balled up on the floor of the tents at the back, crying. It’s horrific. But it’s done. And what is done, will change your archery career, for ever.
Ksenia Perova, the talismanic leader of the Russian recurve team, is the defending champion. There is not to be a repeat, after she goes out in the last eight. I need a quote from her. I know she doesn’t speak English; at least not enough English to deliver the kind of pithy soundbite Im looking for. I look around for the usual suspects I know who can translate; Sayana Tsyemprilova, Vladimir Esheev. Nobody in sight. She looks at me. I say ‘do it in Russian’, and tape it. The result in English, I have to thank my friend Kristina for:
“I am of course upset that I have lost, but I think that after qualifying in the 52nd place, it is good that I have gone up and am amongst the top eight strongest athletes. It is a decent result. Thanks to all my opponents. The Korean team is of course very strong, but we will fight.”
I don’t have the expression on her face in there, or the pathos, the resignation, the professionalism, or the sense of loss in her voice. They don’t pull down the essence of what happened. You don’t get the nuances. You don’t get the tone, whether something was a joke, or bitter, or not. You just have the words. But you have to go and get the words, whether people are devastated or elated or whatever.
In Rio, I had to supervise some junior reporters, and I still treasure the quote gathered by one of them, after perhaps the favourite for the women’s title took an early bath:
Korea had it coming. This article in Bow International explains why, at least a little. None of them really looked like champions. The tone was set by Lee Woo Seok, who spent official practice day in a local hospital having a battery of scans. Looking like death, he turned up the next day and shot – and still finished top of qualification. It was painful to watch, but the guy is like a dog – refusing to show weakness. Over 72 arrows, the Koreans still rule the show, and possibly always will, but on the short course, they all looked vulnerable.
Apparently the Koreans had Bae Jae Hyeon, silver medallist in Berlin, run to Incheon airport to get on a plane, business class. He was through security and sitting in the lounge when the call came to stand down. You would have thought they’d at least let the lad collect his air miles and get a day off in Holland. (His bow had gone on an earlier flight and actually turned up in Den Bosch).
The men losing, both individually and in the team semifinal, was less surprising to anyone who had been following their patchy results over the last year. But the women losing? A bigger shock, but it was coming. You only have to look at the way the two teams walk on stage. Right here. Korea look like they are coming out for an exhibition match. Taipei look like they have come to kick the shit out of whoever is there, and they don’t care who. They were more focused, more disciplined and they wanted it more.
Chang Hyejin has looked terrible in almost every match I have watched her in this year, since the lofty heights she achieved at the start of 2018. If she is still in charge of the team, she is no longer leading from the front. The singular urge to dominate and win, which you still see in Woo Seok and you used to see in Ki Bo Bae, seems absent from the current frontline. You might think of shades of the worst days of the England football team at international tournaments; overpaid, overtired at the end of a season, and uncommitted to the result.
A friend of mine observing the travelling Korean team in Nimes one year said he was surprised to see them all in McDonalds one evening, and in Burger King the next. “I thought they’d be more like athletes.” The indoor gig may be a holiday for them, but the World Championships certainly is not. I see one of the six – I will spare their blushes – eating an entire large pack of Maltesers in between their matches on the Sunday. I can speculate about motivation and culture and the life of a pro across the world, but, ultimately, I don’t know why they didn’t perform. But I do know a large pack of Maltesers probably won’t make me a champion.
And so to Minsk. For some reason, Europe was the last region of the world to finally get an official sub-Olympic multisport competition, with the first edition being held in Baku in 2015. Around the world, the Asian Games has become a huge event over several decades, with the Pan-American Games closing in fast. There is also a Pacific Games and an African Games, both offering Olympic spots for archery and many other sports. A total of 4000 athletes descended on Belarus’ capital to contest dozens of events in fifteen sports. But just like the last edition, it really did not make an enormous impact on the public consciousness in Western Europe, confined to minor satellite channels and barely mentioned in the sports press.
I speak to a photographer from [well-known photo agency], who had pitched up at the archery and said they had only sent ‘two guys’, when twenty might attend an Olympic Games. He says he emailed the Berlin office and asked them what they needed, and they seemed barely aware that it was on.
The city itself has a fascinating history, rebuilt after appalling devastation in the second world war in a grand, Napoleonic style, and welcoming the influx of visitors for the largest event in its post-war history. The transport, food and especially the design were praised across the board. I ride to the venue on dedicated buses down the glorious Stalinist boulevards, and the entire event is staffed by thousands of enthusiastic young volunteers beamingly representing Europe’s last dictatorship.
The training ground for FC Minsk was the host for the archery competition, a location it shared with the riotous beach soccer finals field. Not far from the venue there was a theme park and the screams from a nearby rollercoaster echoing across the field made some matches just straight weird. The beach soccer couldn’t have been more different from the archery, they play music non-stop. And they have dancing girls. Like it’s the 1970s or something. But it didn’t stop me thinking, why don’t we have dancing girls? It’s been mentioned a few times that archery is looking for its equivalent of beach volleyball. I mean. Maybe.
The photo manager is kind enough to give me a bib that lets me access the photo position, but it’s extremely limited in terms of range. There is a single long bench to sit on on the right side side of the range, and that’s it. With a huge camera crane in the way. Which is why a lot of the photos from the event look rather similar. Sorry. If it’s any consolation, many of the pros were all moaning.
The format of the archery competition at the European Games followed the Olympic pattern, with qualification followed by team events and then all individual matches played out one by one on the finals field; everyone got their turn in the sun, and sun it was, with almost all matches played out until the last day in sweltering temperatures and capricious winds. Until the last day.
Minsk also allowed Olympic qualification in mixed team and individual. Up to four were available, in the end, only three were handed out: to Lucilla Boari, Gaby Bayardo, and Pablo Acha. There was little respite for France, who I watched getting stuffed in Den Bosch and again here. Many teams seemed here just for the Olympic spots. I sometimes think that it’s good that the Olympics is unquestionably the pinnacle of the recurve sport, unlike a lot of other perennials at the Summer Games. But it also skews things violently towards a single competition every four years. Listening to them talk, many of them would swap winning the European Games or a World Cup for an Olympic spot in a heartbeat. There’s not only one thing in archery.
Nespoli was incredible. He looked like the strongest there. He looked like a mountain. He was going to take it from the moment he walked out there. You didn’t need to call it for the win. He was kind of there already.
The last day however, saw a catastrophic judging error, that ultimately meant that Dan Olaru and Sjef van den Berg had to replay the end of a match that Sjef had already won – at least according to the rule books. Both walked back out for a shootoff, in grim conditions, which Olaru won. I can’t really comment on this further, because the fallout from it, at this writing, hasn’t quite yet settled to the ground – even though I’d like to. But it was an ugly way to finish a competition which showed that the very best in Europe were the very best.
Perhaps the European Games, in a few editions time, might become a major competition that archers regard as the best moment of their career, and not just a stepping stone to something else, something happening the year after. Perhaps.
Antalya is blessed with many things: eternal sunshine, pleasant beaches, delicious fruit and veg, nice people, no-one talking about Brexit and so on. You’re probably familiar with the fact that it’s an eternal fixture on the World Cup circuit, but it’s become a training camp base for many other teams and squads during the rest of the year as well. Why wouldn’t you? It’s well nice.
In Britain, archery isn’t ‘real archery’ unless it involves mud. ‘Real archery’ is rolling a heavy straw boss across a muddy field towards a dark shed in fast-dimming light in temperatures so cold you can’t feel your hands, which is probably just as well, because they’ve now got fox shit on them. It’s not like that in Turkey. No wonder the Russians pitch up here half the year now.
The other big draw for competitors to the Antalya stage is the Rixos hotel, a five-star white edifice perched on the clifftop above Konyaalti Beach, and one of the better establishments in the area. There’s a decent pool and a spa, and an OTT approach with the buffet that improves morale all round. I mean, ten different types of olives. At breakfast. Twenty types of cheese (most of which taste the same). That kind of thing. And it’s only a ten minute walk or a three minute bus ride from the competition field.
Not everyone stays there, of course. Less well-heeled teams have to slum it in one of two or three hotels a bit further down the chain. What a shame.
All rooms at the Rixos have balconies. Legend has it that a well-known Korean archer (no clues, but her name rhymes with Three Dough Gray) was once photographed completely in flagrante on her balcony by some post-competition party-goers on a different balcony on the Sunday night – although no-one, naturally, has ever produced this photographic evidence. The Korean team also throw one member of their team into the pool, fully clothed, every year. But this year, the Korean team didn’t turn up.
Another ever-present feature of Turkey is the huge numbers of stray cats and dogs everywhere. Istanbul is famous for them, but they are all over Antalya, too. This fella here (below) was kindly and sleepily guarding the new path that dangles out across the cliff out the back of the Rixos and leads to a lift that takes you down to the beach.
They occasionally had to shoo a couple off the competition field too. You hear the odd howl at night. Poor sods.
They mostly manage to keep the stray dogs out of the Rixos; the cats, however, are small enough to slip in to the hotel restaurant, and pretty much every time you sit down for a meal, a minute or two later you look down and there’s a miaow, and someone wants their cut of your dinner. They also try the old subtly-brush-past-your-leg manoeuvre too. Most of the cats are young. I’m guessing it’s a short life.
So everything settled into familiar patterns. Everyone is familiar with Antalya – some of the peleton have been going here for ten years – and the competition, a vast ante-room for the imminent World Championships, didn’t throw up any massive shocks. Notty’s crew of junior compounders smashed records. A bunch of lesser known Asian nations turned up (both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along with the mildly more familiar Kazakhstan, made an appearance – although not at the business end of things).
The Kazakhstan strip has a giant oversize ‘KZ’ logo on it. It reminds me a little of the knockoff Calvin Klein t-shirts you used to see down Chapel Market in the 1990s. It’s absolutely brilliant. More of this sort of ostentatious thing. (Although archery does need an equivalent of Kit Crimes.)
The last couple of days, when the circus moves to the beach, saw some really strong competition and some exciting matches. Like, actual tension. Yes. As a TV spectacle it is constantly improving, but the magic happens when the sport throws up something that pushes people into critical situations. (It was more often than not the bronze matches that caught the attention this year).
Watching Brady Ellison was the most remarkable of all. He seems to have slipped into a kind of god-mode recently. Before he went out for the gold medal match, he claimed to have shot eight thirties in a row on the practice range. It seemed likely. As in Medellin, there was a sense of unstoppability. No one else could really come close. Watching him, I was reminded of one of the best archery quotes of all, by the 2008 Olympic champion Zhang JuanJuan:
The most important thing is having a strong basic technique and movement. Having said that, what makes an archer a champion is their psychological strength – and confidence – because this is what gives them the ability to control a match. You need to have heart as an archer and an athlete. This is what really makes the difference.
I didn’t pick him for the Worlds before, but I do now. None of the serious Asian or European challengers for the title will get past him , if he can keep that momentum going. It’s not just score. There’s an increasing presence about the man. (In other circles, it’s called… this). It would be well deserved if he managed it, of course.
But the Worlds have a history of surprising everybody.
Thanks to all the team(s): my team, your team, their team.
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.