La Lanterne Rouge, or How I Survived The Lausanne Archery Classic

6 December, 2016

In this blog, I try to mostly keep myself reasonably well out of things. There’s a number of archery blogs out there there about ‘my progress as an archer’, many of which I enjoy. But I always wanted The Infinite Curve to be more about the professional, international sport side of things rather than either a personal blog or markedly about archery equipment.  This post is going to be a bit different.

I took up recurve about seven years ago, after attending a have-a-go session at a stag do in London. I still remember that day; the slightly chilly community hall, the Samicks in their rack, the deep satisfaction of hitting the boss, the incredible annoyance of having to stop. I think I phoned and booked a beginners course the next day, and joined a wonderful archery club in London shortly after, which has provided me with years of great times and great friends.

I’m sure many of you have had the same joy, that burst of enthusiasm, going headlong into something new, and perhaps, afterwards, the fading of the fun, the waning. When you plateau and realise that to carry on improving is going to take a vast amount of work, involving unlearning and learning and dealing with your brain screaming at you that “you’re terrible”.

So in the last few years, I’ve gradually been writing about archery more than actually doing it, and the last two years has mostly seen the kit bag in the cupboard; life has got in the way. The occasional times I’ve turned up to the weekend club meets have been met with choruses of ‘hello stranger!’ and other, less printable jokes. I’ve been a writer, not an archer, and shooting has been a scrappy, inconsistent struggle with the bow. Which of course, puts you off going again. I don’t have any excuses. Life moved on of course, and I moved in with my partner, got a new job, got lazier and started preferring Saturday mornings in bed with the newspaper.

So when World Archery invited me to Lausanne with the non-negotiable proviso that “you have to shoot”, it made me gulp a bit. The Lausanne Archery Classic was the inaugural tournament in the amazing new Excellence Centre, and would feature a handful of elite-of-the-elite international talent and several dozen of the best Swiss and French archers. And then me. Who has shot perhaps twelve times in the last two years. Hey! That sounds fun!

I spent the last couple of weeks before leaving for Switzerland almost every night at Archery Fit in Greenwich, in London (will post more about this incredible place later this month). The coaching has been strong, but they pretty much had to start me from zero. They’ve worked hard, and given me a firm base to work from. I put some effort in, but needless to say you can’t become an archer (again) in a fortnight. I have a basic shot, and just enough strength to handle the weight for sixty arrows, but that’s it.

oh, baby

To pile it on even more, I didn’t even take a bow to Switzerland. The day before the tournament, I was kindly gifted a new Faktor / X-Tour bow by my new sponsors Hoyt Formula Series, in gleaming anodised green. I know this is going to sound well-of-course-he’d-say-that, but you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s easily the most beautiful and smoothest bow I’ve ever picked up. You just look at it, and your heart sings. You want to get busy straightaway. It’s true. Everybody there wants a go on it, and gets one. Dean Alberga and Sjef Van Den Berg help me set it up and get it to a basic tune, which is equally ridiculously kind. It’s like putting a race-ready Ferrari in the hands of someone who’s just passed their driving test. Or, in my case, probably failed their driving test.


and if you have five seconds to spare / Then I’ll tell you the story of my life

There is official practice the day before, which irons out a few of the kinks. My ACGs sing towards the wall straight and flat. The equipment is ready, even if I’m not. It’s almost impossible not to be distracted by the sight of Ki Bo Bae, Ku Bonchan, and Choi Misun relaxedly pinging away in the middle of the line. Los galacticos. For extra fun, I am thick with a cold; streaming nose, dopey, pounding head, dosed up to the eyeballs with Day Nurse. At one point, Ku Bonchan comes over, stands about two feet away, and watches me as I aaaaahhh just about manage to get a shot off, back tension rapidly vanishing. I look at him. He looks at me and says “Good.” and smiles. That counts as coaching, right? I also get the once over from Park Chaesoon, Ki Bo Bae’s coach and famously, one of the noisier Koreans on the line. He gives me a wry smile which I interpret as ‘Jesus wept, but hey, nice to have you here.’ Yeaaaarrhhhh.


Sunday morning arrives. I am the only male representative of Great Britain; women’s recurve is being repped by a little-known archer called Naomi Folkard, who is kind enough to help me with all my spectacularly dumb questions. Unlike everybody here – apart, apparently, from Ku Bonchan – I’ve never shot a record status FITA18 tournament. Or, indeed, any tournament in the last three years. Whether by accident, or more likely by design, they’ve stuck me on the target next to Ki Bo Bae, opposite detail, who sits behind me as I go up to shoot.  Thanks guys. AAAAAAAGHHHH.

There is nowhere to hide here. No deadline you can go over by a day or two, no friend you can collaborate with, no little angle you can exploit or work. It’s you out there, and everyone knows just how good or not you are. The little digital numbers above each target spell it out, coldly. Character-building. I like that, though. I need it. Even if I feel like an idiot for a lot of the morning.

So… I get through it. It’s ugly. I know what to do, and I even know mostly where I am going wrong, but I simply don’t have the shot nailed on yet, the muscle memory, the strength. The errors glare brighter and wider. On the line, nervous, sick and tired, I’ve only got about eighty percent of the best I had in the practice hall. My bow arm seems to lose power, my draw hand index finger is raw (it’s now got a lovely big blood blister), and I have one horrible end of L-R errors where I put in a big fat zero. But there’s a few bright spots, a few tens, a few crisp pulls.  I like my tolerant Swiss target mates (one of whom puts in a 581) and remember enough French to call out the score: dix, sept, miss…


There’s interruptions and a few niggles with lighting, but after a slight improvement on the back nine, I finish with 347, bottom of the recurve men by a little over 100 points. The lanterne rouge. Unfortunately, the 40 men are cut to 32, denying me the chance to get mercilessly steamrollered by Ku. My fun is over. To be fair, I probably did myself justice to the amount of work I’ve put in, and performed close to my ability on the day. Oh, for another 100 hours of practice. Or 10,000. But I’ve actually quite enjoyed myself. So easy to forget that that’s the point.


The rest of the tournament proceeds familiarly, with the Korean team behaving like charming rock stars: signing targets, being in a million photographs, earning their living. I’ve mentioned this before, but as far as I know, archery is completely unique amongst Olympic sports, or perhaps any sports, for being able to compete directly with the best of all time. You can pitch up as a complete noob compounder and shoot next to and be scored by Reo Wilde. Or as very-much-not-noob Rebekah Tipping did last week, do the ranking round with Aida Roman. I suppose you can technically run a big city marathon ‘with’ Haile Gebrselassie, but they don’t let you start with him, and you probably won’t get a selfie with him afterwards. (EDIT: apparently you can do this in rowing, too.) 


Nomes banging them in.

Ku matches the world mark, then inevitably runs through the field without incident until top Frenchman Antoine Thomas takes three points off him in a decent final. Ki beat Choi – again. (That’s gotta hurt a bit). Sara beat Sarah – again. (Ditto). Nomes wins another shootoff for bronze. You can see all the results right here.

I end up feeling pretty good. And now I just want to get out there and shoot. I want to be good. I want to be an archer again. It sings to you a song you don’t always want to hear, but know is the music you should really be listening to. It’s not always fun. It scours the character. It tells you which cupboards are empty; discipline, concentration, focus – things I’ve been missing across my life in 2016.

I wonder if I can do it.




World Archery Excellence Centre – Grand Opening

5 December, 2016


Easton Hall

So at the beginning of December I was lucky enough to be invited to Lausanne in Switzerland for the grand opening of the much anticipated World Archery Excellence Centre, many years in the planning, almost as many in the execution.

Lausanne is the World Archery base, and the base of Olympic sport in general. The centre itself stands in the Swiss countryside, a long, low building just off the main road a few kilometres north of the city centre – pleasingly, you are pointed there by little signs using the classic 1972 Otl Aicher pictogram.


The indoor Easton Hall, almost six thousand square metres, is very much the heart of things. There’s a nice blend of ambient and artificial light from the long upper storey windows.I like the look of the place, solid and angular and aware of its natural surroundings. The concrete feels smooth and warm rather than brutal, the building has many eco-modern features such as geothermal heating and solar power, and the environmental commitment includes acres of unpainted plywood internally, which is apparently going to stay that way.  It gleams with newness and pride, even if there’s still a few edges to iron out.



dix, dix, dix

Indoors is limited to 70m, but the outdoor range, chilly in a Swiss December, allows up to 90m shooting. Naturally, there all the rest of the facilities expected of a modern sports complex; a gym, physio room, equipment repair room, meeting rooms, and a restaurant. There is an emphasis on expanding excellence in coaching just as much as training archers and teams.


The only thing I was surprised about is the lack of residential facilities, a cornerstone of some other international archery destinations like Kim Hyung-Tak’s school in Korea. But apparently they are in the long-term plan; it’s been an epic journey to secure the permissions for the Centre which started in 2009. The area is a zone of expansion for the city of Lausanne, and new hotels and apartments are coming in. I really hope the spectacular size and location can draw in the business from around the world.



Friday saw a grand opening ceremony with speeches from IOC president Thomas Bach and World Archery president Dr. Ugur Erdener, as well as the Turkish sports minister. Later, in front of the great and the good of Lausanne, international archery, and the Olympic movement, we were treated to an exhibition match from mixed teams of Choi Misun and Sjef Van Den Berg versus Naomi Folkard and Ku Bonchan, followed by the well-honed rivalry of Sara Lopez versus Sarah Sonnichsen, where the latter won (interestingly, the first match Sara Lopez has lost for over a year, even if it wasn’t ‘real’). A team of Swiss youth archers finally burst some large balloons and the place erupted in confetti, wine, canapes and larking around.

Lau-5698 copy

Swiss youth team waiting for the big moment

Lau-5643 copy

Choi (pronounced CHAY) Misun


So yeah… this happened.


The various Olympians, invited for the weekend seemed relaxed and ready to enjoy themselves. I’d love to be able to tell you which of the Korean team smokes like a chimney and which one of them nailed a whole bottle of wine during the opening party, but that’d be breaking ‘tour rules’. What happens in Lausanne, stays in Lausanne. 

The weekend wrapped up with the Lausanne Archery Classic FITA 18 tournament on Sunday morning, where I did something I don’t usually do: I took part.  More on that tomorrow.

Letter from Marrakesh

30 November, 2016


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go and shoot in an indoor World Cup? This week a guest post from Rebekah Tipping, who did just that in Marrakesh at the weekend. She did pretty damn well, too.

Full result and news from Marrakesh are here.
You can follow Rebekah on Twitter here.


The idea of going to a World Cup leg in another country has always seemed to be a bit of an unrealistic dream for me. I went to Telford in 2014 and ranked somewhere in the mid 30s, too low even to make the cut for the head-to-heads. So when Tom (Hall) and Emma (Davis) suggested going to Marrakech to me one day in late August, and making a bit of a trip out of it, I didn’t take the idea that seriously. That was until they mentioned that I’d make the cut with the scores I was shooting last indoor season. This got me thinking: what if I did go? I had never been very good at FITA 18 shooting, those three spots are just so small, and I’d never really put in a lot of time in them since most university competitions are shot at Portsmouth faces, but I was prepared to put the work in and feel more confident on them.

When we moved back indoors for the season at the end of September, I decided that I was going to do it. I’d spend the next three months shooting on the FITA 18 faces and do my best in Marrakech. We booked our flights together and got an AirBnB between seven of us to keep the cost low. Things actually worked out pretty well since being a sports scholar at the University of Birmingham meant I was able to use the money granted to me by the high performance centre to fund the entire trip. Then all there was left to do was to train!

We have four training sessions a week in our university club, and I shoot once a week in my flat at a short distance to keep my strength up between training, along with two strength and conditioning sessions twice a week that have proved themselves incredibly valuable in the past few months. In total, between planning on going to Marrakesh and shooting my first arrow of the competition, I think I’d probably had around 160 hours of training, enough to increase my average score from 520 to 560.

When we arrived in Morocco, it was a very strange experience. Our taxi driver didn’t speak a word of English, and I found myself searching into the depths of my memory for some GCSE French. We arrived at our mansion of an AirBnB and got settled in pretty quickly, discussing who would be staying where and planning for the next day.

Before heading to the official practice on the Friday afternoon, we took a look around the souks, the markets that cover a huge area of the city. We got quite lost on this adventure, but managed to make our way back to the venue in time for the opening ceremony and official practice. The practice itself was also a strange affair. We didn’t know that the venue was actually a tent erected in a plaza in the middle of the city. This made it quite challenging, in the sense that we now had weather to contend with over the course of the evening. It wasn’t too difficult though, just quite cold, especially once the lady recurves had finished our hour and a half of practice and we were waiting around for the gents to finish their shooting.

It was mild weather in comparison to the storm that rolled in the next afternoon, that delayed the gent recurves’ second half for well over an hour. I’d like to say at this point we were used to flooding though, as when we woke up in the morning of the qualification round, the bottom floor of our house had flooded, leaving the kitchen and Bryony Pitman’s room under a sheet of water!

DIARY: Saturday, 8:30am – ranking round

Just about to start my first ever international ranking round. Feeling a bit nervous but I think it’s mostly excitement. I really want to perform to my best, so I always get this kind of feeling before a shoot. The hall is busy, full of people feeling the same way, the first detail lined up on the waiting line, bows at the ready, looking forward to showing the world what they’ve got. I’ve warmed up, checked my bow, and looked over my goals and notes in my book. I’m ready. The signal sounds, I’m second detail so I’m going to think about my shot sequence for the next two minutes and get ready to put the past three months of training into action.

I ranked 7th of 31 women with a score of 560

Sunday, 9:45am – 1/32 match versus Aude Pipari (FRA) – won 6:2

I was really happy with how yesterday went, and I’m still in a bit of shock that I shot a PB in my first international competition. But at the same time, when I think about all the hours of training that went into preparing for this competition, I really shouldn’t be surprised!

We have 45 minutes until practice for the 1/8th. I’m seeded against an archer that shot 528 against my 560, but that doesn’t mean much, maybe she had a bad day and is capable of much more. I have this mindset that when it comes to head-to-heads, anyone can punch above their weight, so never take it for granted that you’ll get through. You need to shoot to the same standard in a 1/8th or a 1/16th as you would in a gold medal match, because if you don’t, you’ll never see a gold medal match!

Every time I went to shoot an arrow yesterday in the qualification round, I had this voice in the back of my head saying “No timid shots, be confident!” And I woke up this morning to a message from my coach telling me to be confident today. So that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to go out there confident in my process and shoot to the best of my ability.


Sunday, 11:45am – 1/16 match v Pia Lionetti (ITA) – lost 7:3

That match could most definitely be described as challenging. I was shooting against two time Olympian Pia Lionetti and was quite slow to get started. I was certainly right about her shooting below her ability in the qualification after seeing her shoot in the head to heads! We had two ends of practice then straight into the match.I opened with a 27 against her 29. I knew I needed to get myself together and get in control of my shot, so I really concentrated on getting my shots out strong, and pulled out two 29s in a row to match her, but she was not letting up. I had my team mates, and housemates for the weekend, (Tom, Emma, Conor, Sarah, Bryony and Patrick) over to support me now, as their matches had finished after three ends. I feel more confident with my friends behind me, and I think that helped me shoot a 29 to match yet another 29 from her.

The score was 5:3 to her, and I shot a ten and a nine in my first two arrows in that final end. I didn’t look at her target because I knew that would just be putting too much pressure on myself, it didn’t matter what she shot, I wanted to shoot the best shot I could. I took a moment to refocus. I followed my shot process, and made sure to concentrate on the parts of my technique that let me down and still require conscious corrections. Unfortunately my shaking hands maybe not have been under my complete control, and a less than optimal release resulted in a seven on the left hand side. But I’m not upset about it, there is absolutely no point being upset when she shot fantastically and I put up a damn good fight. We both shot at a standard above that of our qualification scores, but put simply, Lionetti shot better.My main goal for this competition was to have a performance that I was proud of, and I have definitely achieved that goal! Now to support my team mates in their matches.


Sunday, 3:30pm – recurve finals matches

My fellow GB archer, Sarah Bettles, who I’ve come up against in head-to-heads numerous times over the national series events this past outdoor season, (we seem to take turns beating each other) got through her 1/8th match easily and found herself in the 1/4 finals against Mexican Olympic archer Gabriela Bayardo. She was very nervous going into the match and asked me to be her coach. I was really quite touched at this, and jumped at the opportunity! Gabriela was shooting very well in practice and Sarah seemed intimidated. She started taking more time on the line and finding her focus before taking her first shot. I think this really helped her, as she opened with a 30 against Gabriela’s 27.

I could actually see Sarah growing more confident as the match progressed, our team mates could testify to this, and I felt so proud to be a part of her match, even though I had been knocked out of the competition already. With some coaching advice from Patrick Huston, who told me about the power of a positive attitude and body language when coaching, I felt more confident in being able to keep Sarah calm and shooting her best. Her next match, the semi-final, was against our fellow team mate (and housemate!) Bryony Pitman.



The semi-final match was another incredibly close one, with Sarah starting strong and Bryony finishing up just slightly stronger. It was a sad situation for team mates to be against each other, but at least both archers were guaranteed a medal match from it. They went to a shoot off and Bryony shot a beautiful ten to take the spot in the gold medal match, leaving Sarah to fight for bronze against Estonian archer Reena Parnat. Sarah was still shooting fabulously, but it’s hard to compete against such high quality scores from your opponent. We were all behind her though, and she took her fourth place finish happily, as anyone would at their first international World Cup event!




Sunday, 6:00pm – gold medal matches

Bryony’s gold medal match was another tense affair. She was shooting against Mexican archer Aida Roman, who I was on the same target as during the qualification round. To say I was starstruck at this was an understatement, I asked her for her autograph on my target face and got a photo with her after the qualification. Bryony, and coach Patrick, stepped up to the gold medal match with such confidence, it was incredibly inspiring to watch. She came out with guns blazing against Aida, but had a slight blip in the middle and lost a set. Patrick had goaded the British contingent into singing the well-known tune “Twinkle twinkle GBR, Bryony Pitman, you’re a star” and I honestly couldn’t believe the effect it had on her! She started busting out the tens like there was no tomorrow, and stormed her way to that first place finish.

Our final meal in Morocco consisted of an entire kilogram of meat. All of this cost about £4.10 each.

Monday, 20:00 – heading home

The team atmosphere in Marrakech was incredible, even though we were just a band of mismatched archers from different clubs who didn’t necessarily know each other very well before this weekend, and it was such a fantastic experience for my first international competition. I do believe the game of sardines, which is a version of hide and seek where one person hides and as each other person finds them they join in hiding until only one person is left searching, in the pitch dark in our AirBnB (which was more like a mansion) really helped the team bonding experience, and everyone was very supportive to each and every other archer throughout the whole competition. A particular acknowledgement must go to Tom Hall, who sprinted 2.5km across Marrakech to retrieve Emma’s forgotten sight and made it back before practice began at 8:30am.


The opportunity to watch the world’s top archers do their thing was an amazing experience. I was standing ten metres from Brady Ellison when he shot the last arrow of his world record and, at a risk of overusing the word, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by it and happy for him when he was so overjoyed at shooting the record. I’ve had one of the best weekends of archery in the five years since I took up the sport as a first year university student in Aberdeen, but I can’t wait to get back to shooting my bow! As is the standard with archery, there is always something new to try and something improve with technique, or equipment, and I can’t wait to get stuck back into training and putting some new ideas into effect.

And finally, to the frequently asked question of how many archers can fit in one top bunk to hide from an Olympian? Six. The answer is six.

Thanks Rebekah!

New sponsor for 2017 – Hoyt Formula Series

29 November, 2016

new logo

The Infinite Curve is very proud to announce that from 2017 it will be sponsored by Hoyt Archery, specifically Hoyt Formula Series bows.

The focus of the blog has always been on target recurve (although all archers are very welcome!) and it seemed fitting to work with the top bowmaker on the planet, who have just launched their brand new Faktor range with X-Tour limbs. Am looking forward to an exciting partnership.

There’s been just a slight redesign, a minor makeover. As before, apart from the sponsorship, nothing will be changing. I still hope to keep on bringing you the best in international archery, from the number one independent archery blog on the planet. I will still try and promote the sport and do my best to interest and fascinate you and anyone else who turns up here. It’s still all just about archery. And you. Thanks!  John

*according to Google. Feel free to give me some stiffer competition…

‘The Call Room’: available now

28 November, 2016


So, after some urging from a few people, I put all the best pictures I took from the Sambodromo call room in Rio into a photobook. It’s taken quite a while to construct and print a version I’m happy with, but we’ve finally got there.

It’s somewhere between sport, portrait and documentary photography. I got lucky.  I doubt anyone else will have that kind of access in an Olympic venue again, least of all me. As a book, it’s less about archery, more a little meditation on sport; the few moments before perhaps the most important few minutes of your life.

It’s over thirty of the best images, in colour and black and white, printed on premium matte paper and in a full colour wraparound hardback. Really, really nice quality and would, naturally, make a lovely Christmas gift. :) It includes a foreword by me. Some of the images have never been published before on the web or anywhere else.

The first run will be a very limited edition, signed and numbered at the back, and will also be available at a special price. It’s not the cheapest thing to do short runs of books, after that, you *might* be able to buy it direct from the printer, but it’ll be more expensive. Will be shipping in about a week or so.

If you are interested in getting your hands on a copy, email me ASAP with ‘photobook’ in the subject line. Let me know where you would need shipping to. My contact email is in the right hand column. Over there and down a bit —->  :) Will be in touch about prices  / shipping shortly – the more people order, the cheaper it gets…

Or leave a comment with your email address below (will try and delete ASAP before the spammers get to it).



LEGAL STUFF: This photobook is reportage and is not endorsed by, or associated in any way with, the IOC or Rio 2016.

getting back into it

15 November, 2016


Pic is ‘Carbons’ by Chipyluna on Flickr.

It’s been a whole month since I’ve posted on The Infinite Curve. Never taken that long off before. I’ve been working on some other projects and being distracted by everything you’ve read in the news in the past six weeks or so, plus there’s some other exciting archery stuff in the pipeline next month.  But I have been doing something that set me off on this journey;  something I haven’t done much in the past couple of years, due to life getting in the way: shooting.

It’s been a bumpy month. I feel I’ve forgotten more than I’ll ever know. The bow seems ever heavier. The form has so many doubts, so many maybe-I-should-try-that-agains. There have been moments of total joy, of 50p-size-groups, of raw confidence coming back.  Equally there have been horrible sessions where it feels like I’m just randomly spraying the target face, collapsing on the third arrow. That horrible walk to the bosses with your face on the floor.

It’s difficult and frustrating, but weirdly, I feel ever more determined to tackle it. I’m not what you call a natural talent at recurve archery. When I first picked up a bow seven years ago, I knew pretty quickly I wasn’t heading for Rio, and had the scores to match it. But something in me knew it was essential, something I had to do. I’ve spent pretty much all my life involved in the creative world of some kind; music, writing, where there is always an angle, always a way you can deliver the goods, sneak under the bar.

Archery isn’t like that. It’s probably the cruellest and most unforgiving of any sport. It tests the character. You can go and play five-a-side football on a Saturday morning with a raging hangover, and still put in a creditable, if slow performance. That doesn’t play on the range. There’s an aphorism that ‘nothing calms the mind like shooting a bow’ – that’s never worked for me, unfortunately. For me the whirling mind, full of thoughts and to-dos and fretting leads to appalling archery, arrows missing the boss, wanting to snap carbons in half, and an even less calm mind than when I walked in. Oh, and I badly need a coach. Badly.

But as I’m packing the thing away, I try to remember the famous 1962 JFK speech about the Apollo project:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

Yeah. That’s it. I choose to keep shooting not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
Because it pushes at that part of me that knows that something that hard won is worth striving for. Archery shows me something I want to be, something shining in the distance. I haven’t got there yet, but I’m going to keep taking steps down the road.