The format for almost everybody is pretty simple. Shoot thirty arrows a day, add them up. That’s your competition. No head-to-heads. International teams and kids at their first tournament. Men and women all piled together. All in the same boat.
Jesus, this is huge. I’m still pretty tired; I tried to do some stretch-band work in the toilet of the creaking British Airways 747 that brought me here from London, but it really was not big enough. So I ‘missed’ a day of practice, but whatever. Am going to shoot what I’ve brought, despite waking bolt upright at 4.50am, body clock set wrongly. I post on Facebook shortly afterwards and get a reply from fellow Brit Patrick Huston saying ‘can’t sleep either’. Heh. Breakfast at half-past-five in the morning, why the hell not. This is the perfect place for it.
The Vegas Shoot is the largest indoor competition in the world, and regarded as the most prestigious. It actually comprises two major tournaments: the fourth leg of the indoor archery World Cup season and its grand finale, and the various categories of the Vegas Open shoot, the main event finishes in a shootdown amongst compound archers that can be summarised as ‘one miss of the x ring and you’re out’. Alongside that there are a dozen or so sub-tournaments; local and junior finals ringing out over the PA over the preceding days. The big dance. There’s plenty more facts and superlatives, it’s easier to read Andrea’s excellent guide to it on the NFAA website.
All this is held in a cavernous casino hotel called the South Point, a couple of miles south of the ‘end’ of the famous Las Vegas Strip, which has two immense halls split into two ranges each and a further events arena for the finals. This year is the biggest gate ever, and almost 3600 archers have arrived from all corners of the USA and fifty one different countries. Today, the last day before competition begins, the buzz is rising. The place is jammed. There are queues for many things and there’s a constant chatter of fat arrows rattling in quivers in every hallway. This really is tribal gathering of American archery. You sense that no-one here would rather be anywhere else.
Today (Thursday) is a free-for-all open practice: grab a target, grab some pins and find a spot at any one of the hundreds of bosses. (Vegas, even for the pros, is quite do-it-yourself and doesn’t rely so much on an army of volunteers for organisation and scoring). Every hall is full of archers, and from tonight, you can practice literally around the clock in the city that, needless to say, never sleeps.
The symbol of Vegas is the iconic three-spot target, although not everybody knows that you can turn it over and shoot on a regular single ten-zone target (outside of the championship division). I haven’t quite decided which one I’m going to go for yet. It seems a bit churlish to go to Vegas and not shoot the three-spot, but in practice, it’s clear I’m getting the better results on the single-spot.
I watch and chat with legend-of-Sydney-2000, Simon Fairweather and Sjef Van Den Berg. Simon, like me, is shooting in the recurve ‘flights’ division (another unique Vegas feature of which more tomorrow). Sjef is, as usual, at the top of the pile of the championship recurves, with a lot more at stake. Unlike most events, they can practice almost anonymously here amongst an ocean of compounders. Both look almost absurdly relaxed, practicing in the vast hall at the back of the hotel that has rodeo bars at its entrance. I mean, I’m more nervous about this.
I talk to Chris Marsh, the World Archery events director, here to supervise the World Cup event leg. “Vegas is unique, because it’s the only event in the calendar that unites two worlds; the enormous NFAA with its field and hunting audience, and World Archery, which is of course focussed on target archery. It’s a meeting and mingling of the two worlds which doesn’t happen anywhere else.” It’s an immense expression of the American side of archery in one of the country’s most American of cities.
So I join the throng, and practice ends up going really smoothly, starting strongly in the middle and wandering off a little towards the end. I’m glad it’s only thirty arrows a day, anyway. If it was sixty, I’d be in more trouble. So I’ll decide tomorrow morning which side I’m going to shoot. The bow is working well and reasonably in tune, and apart from a moving clicker, fixed with a bit of brute force, is easily going to outshoot the archer. So we’ll see where we are at tomorrow. It’s time to face the first thirty.