YouTube, eh? Where would lazy afternoons at work be without it? I came across 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 Hollywood inserts. The split channel audio. The amazing displays of what would now be considered quite unorthodox techniques (especially releases). 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. In the women’s semi, you can see 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. Essence of Korean archery, right there. 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. On the far right you can see coach Lloyd Brown, now coaching the UK squad since 2009. But 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, more and more passion. When 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 get those kind of crowds once every four years. (Have a quick look at last year’s damp and near empty World Cup finals in Tokyo last year for some contrast. It’s like a rained-out school fete.) 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 was convicted of selling marijuana, and his archery career fell apart. You can read about that here. He was still shooting a few years ago. I wonder what he’s up to now. Do you know? Let me know.