Shanghai came and went. The firmest fixture on the circuit, as they say. I was sad not to be there, but the jet lag is a nightmare and if you’d stood outside breathing the air for a week and felt the hacking cough develop at the top of your throat, you might want to skip it next year too. It’s also a tricky one as a spectator in Europe, because the team finals start at three o’clock in the morning in Europe, and even dedicated archery nerds like me are going to struggle to pull that off on a Sunday morning. (Full disclosure: I set the alarm, but gave up).
If there was a theme it, was: the big Asian teams have something on the agenda. The recurve category was notable for resurgent performances by Japan and especially the host nation China, who have been relatively quiet on the international scene since an indifferent Olympics. (I heard a rumour that huge numbers of Chinese Olympic athletes had been put on winter sports programs in advance of Beijing 2022, and I wondered if they’d got the archery team too). The quadrennial Asian Games, being held in Indonesia this year in August, are around the corner, and all the big teams are keen to make a mark.
It’s difficult to explain how big a deal the Asian Games is. The biggest multi-sport event outside the Olympics by some considerable distance, it is the ultimate sport-as-substitute-for-war; played out against a background of fierce historical and geopolitical rivalries, especially for the biggest nations: Japan, China, and South Korea. It has a lot of internal history too, running since 1951, with archery an event since 1978.
The Korean team count an individual medal at the Asian Games as part of their fabled ‘triple crown’ of archery success: Olympic individual gold, a World Championship title, and a gold medal at the Asian Games. (If I have this right, many have come close, but the only person to achieve this perfectly has been Park Sung-Hyun). It’s a second Olympics, really. A soccer analogy, if you’re in Europe, would be the status of the European Championships against the the World Cup. It’s almost right up there.
On the finals stage, the Indonesian mixed team of Ega Egatha Riau and Diananda Choirunisa put in something very special indeed to deny the USA a bronze medal, showing seriously high quality on the stage. Vanessa Landi was fantastic, too. The women’s team final is worth another look. Chinese Taipei, who must be getting pretty sick of their reputation as ‘almost as good as Korea’, seemed to show a bit more composure on the stage, and kept things a lot tighter than before. They were probably a bit unlucky to lose. With Lei Chien Ying back in form and on frontline duties after a personal decline in 2016 and 2017, it’s just, just possible they could finally push past their great rivals in white, who, unfortunately, looked as good as ever. The trouble with Korea, is even when they seem really under threat, they have an incredible knack of pulling matches out of the bag.
Chang Hyejin is now firmly established in her role as both captain and anchor, as the senior hand. She was executing incredibly well, with a pace and crispness to her shot that reminded me of the day she won in Rio. The businesslike momentum of someone at the very, very top of their game. And she managed to give everyone a moment of pure joy with the second end of her individual final: three in the x ring barely three centimetres apart. Watch it again here. I sensed we haven’t seen the last of the silver medallist An Qixuan either.
The changes in finals structure with the ‘inline’ medal ceremonies immediately after category events, trialled in Yankton, was a resounding success watching as a spectator – keeping the crowd in their seats, speeding up the processes of athlete wrangling, and breaking up the day nicely.
The other big change was the Falco Eye output, showing the grouping of the arrows, finally made part of the production graphics. It’s still fairly rudimentary, but I’m really excited about it; I think it is going to be a powerful tool to increase archery as a spectator sport. Archery is woefully short of live statistical analysis at the moment. Imagine, after a team match, being able to instantly rank players, award a man of the match trophy, and prove who was the strongest. It’s going to be really, really important.