I arrive in Poland like a hurricane that’s just been downgraded to a tropical storm. I am knackered from a stupidly early flight from London; luckily World Archery are kind enough to pick me up from the airport for a token exchange of zloty. I get to the field just as the mens and womens compound qualifications are winding up. Two football fields knocked together in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, built in the 1920’s when Wroclaw was still a part of Germany. Apparently it was renamed with the ‘Olympic’ bit in the folorn hope of hosting some of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You know… that one. My host is Maciej. He has a dry, and frankly, British sense of humour. I like him immediately. I am given a green ‘media’ bib that makes me look like a fat leprechaun linesman. Just as I arrive, double World Cup champion Sergio Pagni breaks the European record for the 50 metre compound round with a staggering 714 out of 720. He looks superbly pleased with himself in the awesome way only an giant Italian man can be. “Can I take one more picture?” “OHH, yes.” What a man.
I get the largest coffee I can scrounge. It’s pretty easy to tell how things are going even without the single scoreboard screen next to the entrance. You can easily see an air of despondency hanging over some of the camps. They play some frankly strange choices of music in between ends; I hear ‘Punky Reggae Party‘ closely followed by ‘Bette Davis Eyes‘. (Still, that’s better than whoever was ‘DJing’ at London 2012, when Lords was treated to the Macarena just after a crucial semi). Slowly the forests of expensive hardware, mostly Hoyt, are packed away and the targets get moved back to 70m ready for the recurve men and women. There’s a five-way shoot off for the coveted eighth spot won by Dave Cousins. Erika Jones of the USA came top of the women’s ranking, and submits to an interview. Danielle Brown and John Stubbs, two of Team GB’s finest, are solidly placed for the next day.
A dozen nationalities. It’s a bit of an archery nerd’s paradise. You only have to turn round too fast and you realise you’ve knocked over Viktor Ruban‘s bow stand. Look! there’s… oh, and… and… OMG!… wow, that’s… everybody. The collective talent is terrifying. I even get a smile and a respectful nod from Dean Alberga, the international archery photography capo di tutti capo, resplendent in his ‘Media 01’ bib. The recurves are warming up in the practice field next door, including a full-strength Korean squad, all of whom are byed straight through to the next day after an utterly dominant display in the qualification FITA round on Tuesday.
Teams wander past. Coaches are spread thinly amongst three man or women squad members, who might be eighty metres apart down the field, and have to frequently split loyalties. I speak to the ridiculously young Becky Martin, who is on her own waiting to start the 1/48 eliminations. She did well yesterday, coming 36th out of 90, in her first World Cup. How do you feel, Becky? “Pretty good, was pretty happy, made the top half of the draw.” How was warming up this morning? “Just did a bit, not too much.” Her bow shoulder is troubling her. What’s the problem? “Not sure, I don’t know anything about anatomy!”. She seems confident though, and proves it by hammering Holly Stover of the USA 7-1 in the 1/48. I watch Amy Oliver‘s shot cycle carefully. Her technique is fantastic, but the pause after each shot, where she collects herself, head down, looks like she is staring into an abyss of her own making. Whatever. She beats her first Turkish opponent convincingly.
In the 1/24, I watch the match between Elisa Barnard of Australia and Ika Rochmawati of Indonesia; where the collective support of Archery Australia has lent proceedings more of a Test cricket feel than most matches this evening. Unfortunately, she slumps to a defeat, as does Rebecca Martin. Naomi Folkard, conqueror of the World Games, goes through to the last 32 against Jennifer Hardy of the USA who is still wearing a shirt with her maiden name on the back.
I briefly catch up with Taylor Worth on the practice field as the men prepare for the eliminations. Regular readers will remember that I interviewed him for the blog a couple of weeks ago. He isn’t feeling strong. “Not the best comp I’ve ever had.” He finished 67th of 98 in the ranking round. Could be worse, I suggest? “Not really.” His body language screams that it’s just not happening today, and it seems to prove self-fulfilling; he gets thumped 6-2. Kieran Slater of Team GB, who had a disastrous qualification, gets thrashed by the hero of Antalya, Juan-Rene Serrano of Mexico. The set play is difficult for a spectator, with the long wait as the clock counts down and the athletes trudge across the field and add up the arrows, relaying them to the handheld digital devices that link directly to the live scores that beam round the world:
…and finally change the resolutely manual Velcro scoreboard below the targets. Of course, I should have brought a scope or binoculars, like the vast majority of participants.
Someone asked about the gear. There’s not much to say really, because everyone pretty much uses exactly the same stuff; Hoyt F4/F7 and Ion risers or Inno Max / Inno-Ex Prime, you have to look long and hard to find something not made up of at least one of that lot. You’re nobody without your customised Angel quiver though. I did enjoy Thomas Faucheron‘s Uukha plus Blades kit. The stealth bomber of bows:
Team GB have had a fairly ropey day; Larry Godfrey is out. A final trace of sun does a late streak across the field. It’s the kind of light I have been hoping to take photographs in all day, but unfortunately things are winding up, finished by an exciting double shoot off between Daniel McLaughlin of the USA and Bernado Oliviera of Brazil, the first of which is deemed to close to call. There’s a slightly downcast collective air as everyone trudges to the buses, a mixture of exhaustion and the terrible ennui, for half the recurvers, of failing to make the cut. In Four Iron In The Soul by Lawrence Donegan, one of the best books about golf ever written, the constant misery of failing to make the cut, the next day, is replayed endlessly. The emotional turmoil of matches that you know, deep down, that you could win – but don’t – must eat into these people’s souls.
Not everybody, though. Deepika Kumari sits in the seat in front of me, and softly sings all the way back to the hotel.