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.