YouTube, eh? Where would lazy afternoons at work be without it? There is this incredible 25 minute video of the 1996 Olympic archery competition. The ’96 Games were held in Atlanta, Georgia with the archery portion being held at Stone Mountain Park nearby; a spectacular, brooding backdrop. You can watch it all here:
I like a lot of things about this film. The amazing displays of what would now be considered quite unorthodox techniques (especially releases). The ‘Hollywood’ inserts. The weird split channel audio. There are many highlights: the mixture of horror and bafflement on a Korean archer’s face at shooting a six. Some seriously 90s bow paint jobs. The way Kim Kyung-Wook comes down, calms down, and recomposes herself to take out a ten and the match – the mental strength, the composure, boggle the mind. In the gold medal match, she takes out the camera in the centre of the ten-ring twice.
It starts getting really good with the men’s individual, though, and the arrival of Justin Huish. The US team (above), in the era before they let half-decent designers do the national team kits, have ended up looking slightly like a local baseball team in a heartwarming underdog movie. Huish, with his wraparounds and his hint-of-Fonzie burns is a curious mix of slacker king and pumped-aggression. There’s something threatening about him.
The semi-final match between his and the legend that is Michele Frangilli (looking, with that glove, and that draw-all-over-his-face, like an off-duty Bond villain’s henchman) is a doozy. Watch it all here. The crowd goes apeshit, and does it again for Huish’s semi. You can see him start to respond with more and more passion. By the time he walks out for the final with M Petersson you can see him just drinking it in.
Playing to the crowd, confidence oozing. Writing the script. As the final winds on, he starts increasingly displaying a showy tic of holding his draw hand index finger to his neck. Look at me. It’s all me.
The denoument is a delight. The sight of an athlete responding to an ecstatic crowd, using them as a spur, setting up that feedback loop of confidence is one of the delights of watching sport. That sense of collective drama and tension. Sadly, in archery, you only usually get those kind of crowds once or twice every four years. The quality may be there, but the event is missing. (I was never much of a football fan until someone took me to see Arsenal play in the late 1990s. Standing in the North Bank when the home team scored; the noise is just… narcotic. Like nothing else. As William Blake wrote: “Energy is pure delight.”) I don’t think archery should be like football, but I want those collective feelings. I want that sense of narrative.
The film also contains a melancholic contrast to the earlier displays; in the women’s team competition, the sight of Cornelia Pfohl shooting, and then… ah, I’ll let you watch it. It’s better watched than written about (and watched till the end).
There’s a well-known post-story too. In 2001, Justin Huish’s life took a sharp turn and his archery career fell apart. You can read about that here. He was still shooting in the 2000s, and has been seen at a variety of US tournaments in recent years, including Vegas this year. He was the first male archer to do the ‘double’ of Olympic and team gold in the same year (matched by Ku Bonchan in Rio). Someone should interview him again one of these days.