Don’t they look happy about it? Nope. North Korea’s Kang Un Ju and Pak Yong Won lost their mixed team recurve gold medal match against Japan in Jakarta at the Asian Games this morning.
The winners of the recurve mixed team events in all the sub-Olympic continental competitions will now qualify two spots – one man, and one woman – for Tokyo. The final this morning saw the team of Takaharu Furukawa and Sugimoto Tomomi show the exceptional quality they have been displaying all year, notably when they beat Korea in Antalya, and they ended up thumping the DPRK 6-0. However, Japan will qualify automatically as hosts just as long as they contest the world championships next year, which is more than a certainty. I mean they would swim to get to the Netherlands if necessary.
So the DPRK’s Kang Un Ju and Pak Yong Won will actually be the first archers to qualify for the Olympics – although technically, this cannot be officially announced until next year and World Archery can’t broadcast it. I can though. Whee. From their faces though, I think they’d rather have the Asian Games title. Someone who was there said “I’ve never seen two people pack up their bow cases that quickly.” You hope they won’t have to go off to some sort of camp somewhere and have to explain why they lost. For the next five years.
The nicest thing of all was: watching the feed early this morning, I thought I heard some familiar voices shouting familiar things. In the background, you could just see several members of the (South) Korean team, loudly cheering on their northern counterparts. I wasn’t sure, but I sent a message to someone in their camp, who said: “Yes, absolutely. We were one country.” The Asian Games seems to be a regular stage for this cross-border sentiment; this year saw the first gold medal won by a unified Korea team, in the very grand sport of dragon boat racing. The last outing, in Incheon in 2014, saw the crowds at a North Korea v South Korea football match chanting “we are one” at the pitch. There have even been abandoned attempts at getting the archery teams to train together.
If Korean unification happens in our lifetimes (and I’m increasingly thinking it probably will) as usual, sport will play a vital role in breaking down symbolic barriers, before and after.
Pic via Sik News
It seems Ki Bo Bae, after originally saying she wouldn’t commentate, has once again picked up the microphone to commentate for KBS on the Asian Games, just as she did four years ago in Incheon. Perhaps a very large cheque was involved. She has confirmed that she is definitely not packing up her bow yet and will be trying for Tokyo, although there is still no official word on the now-multiply-confirmed rumour that the newly married Bo Bae has – how can I put this – another rather big non-archery event happening this year? Is that subtle enough for everyone? 🙂
It’s difficult to express how frustrated I am with archery at the moment. Nothing seems to be going right. Nothing. Because it is a sport that demands far more time that I can give it, and consistently reminds you when you are not paying it the attention that it deserves.
My only goal, really, is to perform at the best of my ability and deliver at a reasonable level. That’s all anyone can do, right? Yeah. Well, I seem to be unable to do even that. I don’t expect to be able to keep up with internationals. I expect to be able to execute a shot with at least reasonable consistency and it produce some kind of a group when I go and actually perform. Sadly, that just seems to always just fall out of reach. So I’m left in a situation where I am hoping not to finish last, hoping not to collapse completely. That’s not really where you want to be for an international tournament. I’m completely out of my depth. And it’s no longer funny.
This has been compounded by a lack of practice, but this time, not through want of trying. The outdoor practice sessions at the club near where I live start and finish too early for when I finish work – I can barely get 45 minutes shooting in and I don’t have any say in the distance (long story). So I currently have a sightmark for 80 yards, but not for 70 metres. What a fucking amateur. I tried, a while ago, to contact a club much nearer my workplace who shoot on weekday evenings, but in typical UK archery style, no one bothered answering my email. And today, I tried to go out to my club in London, but I don’t have a key to our outdoor ground anymore and nobody wanted to come out and play in the drizzle. I can’t set up a boss at home – it’s just not big enough and the ceilings are too low. So in the short term, I am massively underrehearsed.
I hate the fact that I’m relying on a pile of components, all of which are mission critical, and I don’t have enough spares which I am sure are all working and shot in and identical and so on. I hate the fact that I can’t tune a bow properly, despite following instructions to the letter, because I’m always second guessing myself and there’s always something I’ve missed and all the sets of instructions are different and apparently don’t take things like different arrow rests into account. Oh yeah. Arrow rests. I hate arrow rests.
what is this I can’t even
I hate fletching arrows. Someone was kind enough to sit down with me a few months ago and teach me a nearly foolproof method for fletching recurve arrows, just before I went to Vegas. Brilliant. A process. Repeatable! I followed it to the letter a couple of nights ago, or so I thought. The results look ham-fisted and clunky. With a couple of vanes to go the stupid jig lost its little ball, the one that guides the turns through 120 degrees. It rolled under the sofa and down the floorboards. I jam the last couple on and heave the fletching jig, with its shitty design and worse instructions, into the bin. I have eight working arrows, and a bareshaft. If there was time, I would have done it properly. There isn’t time.
I hate the fact that I’m still slightly over-bowed. Not much, but enough to fuck up the last few ends of any session. It’s fine, until it’s not, then I want to throw the thing on the floor. I’ve managed to put in some strength work at home, but not much. My shot is finally coming together, thanks to Kate, my coach, but everything around it… sheesh.
One of the reasons I like archery it because I find it very difficult, because it forces me to think and do things in a certain way. And I chose to do this tournament. Nobody forced me. But I wanted to. And I’m finding it so difficult to enjoy it and make it part of my life, because it seems to always force you back to square one all the time. I’m a really busy person, and I want to shoot as an escape valve. Every time, right now, it seems to throw something in the way, and I don’t have the seemingly endless amounts of time needed to patiently work through all the technical and physical problems. (I’m not the most patient person in the world with a lot of things).
There are no excuses. I know. But I manage to organise my life in many other ways no problem; editing a magazine, running a household, commuting and working a job, cooking and cycling and being with people and having a life. I want archery as part of that too, but not to be everything. Enough to go and have fun with it. It’s lost a lot of joy at the moment. And I have to go and shoot this week and be embarrassed by people who are better than me, because I thought I could be better too. And I’m not. And I hate that.
I took the above picture, as the sun blazed across Europe, because I had a privileged position of access at the World Cup in Berlin 2018, and also because that’s the sort of pictures I like taking. The anticipatory moment, which was lucky enough to be framed and lit by the south stand for spectators. I took a similar pic of a few other squads, but that one turned out best. Is almost needless to say, but they delivered the goods. Collectively, no one yet comes even close. That’s just the women, though. The men are a different matter.
The non-business end of the Berlin World Cup takes place in the vast expanse of the Olympic Park, built of course for the 1936 Olympics, when Germany was ruled by the Nazis under Hitler. It’s the first World Cup to take place in a specifically Olympic spot, even if there was not an archery competition in 1936 (or any Olympics between 1920 and 1972). Berlin is a city that brims over with history, but is ultimately shaped by the 20th century, when large parts were destroyed and then partitioned until 1989, when the wall came down, in one of the more extraorinary events of the last 100 years. Possibly the defining post-war event in world history and political terms. And no city on Earth has dealt with, and rebuilt, a complex past quite like Berlin.
I’ve only been here briefly once before, but I’m already itching to go back. An extraordinary place. You can of course, hold a archery competition in a field pretty much anywhere, but thankfully, it’s here, in this immense arena. The finals are held at the park by the standing remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof, the former main train station of Berlin, a historical victim of both war and partition. You feel like archery is carving, very lightly, a new chapter somewhere. We’re not even alone here; the monolithically beautiful curves of the Olympiastadion play host to megastar Ed Sheeran during the week, whose soundcheck on Wednesday afternoon politely disturbs the competition. Even one of the guys who is working on the video wall is sitting there reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. It’s a classy bunch.
The ranking ultimately brings few surprises, and the recurve team rounds are notable mainly for the punching-vastly-above-their-weight performance of Great Britiain’s recurve women. After qualifying a dreary 17th, they surprised themselves by beating a bemused host nation in a shootff, before staying consistently high against China and, astonishingly, beating Chinese Taipei, the second best team in the world, in the semi final with ends of 57, 55, 56, and 54 before winning a shootoff with 27 versus 26. A friend watching said “I don’t know who looked more stunned at the end – GBR or Taipei.”
It was a rock-solid display that came, apparently, out of nowhere. They couldn’t produce anything quite like that on the finals field, but they gave a reasonable showing against the best in the world.
Taipei have had a difficult time of it recently, with relatively mixed (by their standards) results and Tan Ya Ting once again failing to get over the semi-final hurdle and into a position that her ranking and consistency should easily have won her a major tournament by now. As their coach said in Antalya: “Each time, we should be facing Korea for the gold medal.” They weren’t far off.
But more was to come. The USA failed to put a recurve archer into the finals for the second time this year, and questions are increasingly being asked of the Olympic programme as the buildup to Tokyo starts – not to mention two of their best-known compound archers having a very public row on the qualification field. You get the feeling not all is right with the camp right now. Or several other camps, by the sounds of it.
In the recurve finals, Korea’s men faltered, losing all their matches – and two to their greatest Asian Games rivals, Chinese Taipei. In fact, Taipei ended up matching them for total golds. Wei Chen Hung exorcised some no-doubt painful memories of losing to Im Dong Hyun in Mexico at the World Championships, by producing, against him, one of the greatest shootoff arrows ever seen on a finals field. Earlier, the Korea of Hyejin and Woo Seok were pretty dreadful in their mixed team match. Didn’t seem to be much interest in winning it, to be honest. Once again, Wei delivered.
Most of the audience were there to see Lisa Unruh, without question the biggest bums-on-seats draw here, and facing World Cup gold medal match neophyte Lee Eun-Gyeong – who displayed all the talent we have been hearing about for years to demolish her 6-0. A angry-looking Lisa, after opening with a strong ten, never really got any momentum up on home turf and in her home town. It was a real shame, just as she seems to be hitting her stride. But Eun-Gyeong was special, the most special of her team this tournament.
Australia had a good day at the office, winning two matches and giving Taylor Worth a berth in Samsun – despite a catastrophic judging mistake in the men’s team match against the Kazakhs. But the day belonged to Mete Gazoz, who turned in a champion’s performance against Lee Woo Seok in a match that almost surpassed the Korean masterclass in Antalya this year for quality.
I wish I could say more about the compound matches, but they were struggling to hold my interest, to be honest, and the general in-fighting, paranoia, and bullshit that occasionally accompanies that side of the sport seemed to be in full effect. Apart from a diverting men’s gold match, nothing else I watched (and I didn’t watch every team event) delivered much spectacle. Come on, compound. You can sometimes knock it out of the park. Not here. It has set up an exciting looking slate for Samsun, once everyone has enjoyed themselves at the World Field champs in Cortina. Maybe we’ll get something really unexpected. Maybe.
Thanks to Nick Taylor-Jones and everyone I hung out with.
pic via https://www.instagram.com/sarahholstsonnichsen/
It was a little difficult to engage fully with the Salt Lake stage of the World Cup this year, living in Europe, as due to someone’s frankly ropey idea of scheduling, the individual matches started past midnight. As a stage, it doesn’t seem to have taken off quite as everyone was hoping; apart from the coverage and the sparse audience, an increasing number of teams skipped it this year and the winds seemed even more capricious than the 2017 outing. No one wants to watch a lottery; although it was noticeable how the very, very best always have less trouble with the wind than others.
But this caught my eye when I was looking through the qualification results. Sarah Sonnichsen, who became the world number one compound archer last year, shot just two arrows out in the desert, then packed up her bow.
Anyone who has been following either of her Instagram feeds this year could not have failed to notice something wrong. She finally put a post up yesterday morning, which I’m going to quote in full:
“This is going to be a very long and honest post. As a lot of people have noticed my score from Salt Lake City is not there and there’s a reason why you can’t see it. As many people also know I’ve really been struggling the past half year or so. I wasn’t feeling good in China, I quit Redding, Turkey was a fight for me and Salt Lake was just too much. 😕 After Turkey I actually took two weeks off from shooting to get some help and I thought I was ready for Salt Lake so that’s why I went here thinking I could handle it but when we had to shoot qualification, the wind was just insane and feeling this way plus the wind and on top of that having a really bad flu was just way too much for me to handle and I completely broke down. No one and I really mean no one should feel the way I felt standing on the shooting line having a complete panic attack.☝🏼 So no I didn’t shoot Salt Lake.
And because of everything there’s going on with me right now I will also be taking a break when I get home. Not from shooting because I still enjoy shooting; I still want to shoot, but I will be taking a break off from shooting competitions for a while until I get my head back to where it’s supposed to be and until I feel completely ready and I get this under control again. I can’t say for how long but I know this is something I have to do for myself. I know I can shoot. I know I’m a good archer. Right now my head is just not in a place where I can shoot what I’m capable of which has shown on most of my results the past 1/2 year. And yes it sucks and I should probably have done this before. But now I’m doing what I need to do to feel better. And hopefully I’ll come out even stronger in the end and I’ll be back to shooting what I’m capable of!😆
People who know me knows this is a really tough decision for me. I’m not good at feeling ‘weak’ and taking a break from archery is not something I’ve ever done before. I usually just push through it. But this time I’ve realized I can’t just push through it. My mind and body is just saying no. I need to take care of myself right now but don’t worry! You guys aren’t gettin rid of me so easy. I will be back!🤣”
It’s a salient reminder that archery as a sport doesn’t exist in a bubble, and depression and mental illness can strike anyone, anywhere, no matter how effective or successful or professional. People are archers, but they are also human; and they have plenty more to deal with as well as competition. Given it is a sport which relies on a iron-cast mental game, raised at will to compete at the highest level, it makes me wonder just how many other archers are suffering (I know of at least two others dealing with similar issues in one way or another).
I hope its needless to say, but everyone is looking forward to seeing Sarah back in competition as soon as she’s well enough to compete.
Antalya has been and gone, and for archery fans, was a far more gripping spectacle than Shanghai. Holding the competition a few weeks earlier than normal spares the peleton from the beginnings of the worst of the summer coastal heat, when temperatures of 40°C are not unknown. A steady-ish 28°C is about the limit of what you can sit outside all day and still function at the highest level (that’s me, not the archers) and it turned out that you can do a lot of special things when everything is just right, as the recurve qualification results came in on Monday afternoon, just as the sun started dropping behind the stadium, as the light started to spread.
I’m watching the scores come in like boats returning to harbour, and two names: Kim Woojin and Kang Chae Young, are consistently above the red line that indicates the world record average. And they stay there. I run to the men’s end of the field with cameraman Gwenael to get the story. Woojin had been shooting one of the most extraordinary back nines ever. He needed 59 from his last six arrows to break his own world record, set in similar warm, still conditions at the Sambodromo. His teammates knew it, and began taking the piss as he went up to the line. Ron van der Hoff was kind enough to sit on his scope and called them for me.
First arrow is a nine. Woojin’s face twitches. That slightly quizzical look he’s good at. Second arrow… is a nine, and he rolls his eyes. It did and didn’t mean something. No world record. I see the next arrow, which is clearly shot like he couldn’t give a **** where it ends up. He basically throws the last end away, and it’s still a 352 for a total of 697, which would match the fourth highest score in history. And he’s pissed off.
“Tell me you’re happy!”
We run back to the women’s side, where Kang Chae Young isn’t choking, not for anybody. I watched two of her earlier ends. She looked relaxed, but in a curiously placid way. Just accepting the result. No emotion. Just process. And quick. At one point she was seven points above the world record average.
The finale isn’t dramatic, and ‘just’ a 57. But “The Destroyer” has – very quietly – annihilated the world record. She looks as surprised as everybody else. Her scorecard is relentlessly consistent. Relentless consistency is Chae Young’s stock in trade, and relentless consistency is rewarded in the Korean system, which filters potential frontline teams via multiple gruelling selection tournaments, prizing stamina over flash-in-the-pan brilliance (she rarely finished top of any one day, but didn’t ever finish bottom either). And on this rather lovely afternoon, the least diva-like, most unassuming member of the squad pushes the women’s world record to within 1.3% of the men’s mark.
It wasn’t Bob Beamon’s long jump, but most archery things that are truly remarkable by the sport’s standards are done quietly. It’s something when one of our greater sporting achievements in the last few years is achieved by someone who includes ‘making soap’ as one of their hobbies.
The record that Woojin matches, the fourth* highest ranking round score in history, was shot by Brady Ellison in Shanghai in 2016. Brady Ellison in Antalya in 2018 is not happy. Despite qualifying well, the painful finger problems that have dogged him over the last season and sank the boat in Vegas and Yankton are still there. How are your fingers, Brady? “I’m ready to quit!” he snarls at me. “I’ve shot 100 arrows since Shanghai.” He’s told me (and many other people) several times over the past few years that he intends to quit recurve and return to shooting compound.
Song Yun Soo
But recently, the double-bowing at the Gator Cup and his apparently endemic injury issues seem to indicate he might be serious. If he did, it would leave USA recurve in an even more parlous state, to say the least. I don’t think I’m out of line by saying it’s not looking very strong in depth right now, two years out from Tokyo. There is a lot of work to do to get two USA teams qualified next year.
The rest of the qualification rounds are relatively unremarkable. By the time Friday rolls around, the glorious sunshine has given way to thunder and rain, soaking the first couple of rounds on Baki Beach, a few miles further down the coast than the normal venue, which is being reconstructed. The Korean men take clinical, disciplined revenge on the USA for Shanghai. It’s an incredibly controlled, classy display. The USA’s cause is not helped by Braden Gellenthein, anchoring, who has decided to shoot a brand new bow. Which he set up last night. And seems to be only capable of shooting nines. He falls apart, and Kris goes with him. It’s carnage.
Then Yeşim Bostan finally breaks her ‘silver medal curse’ and wins on the beach, in front of deafening home support. It’s no secret that her attempts so far have been sunk by terrible performance anxiety; her qualification rounds have been clinical, but on a stage, she’s had trouble – e.g. this shootoff arrow in Rome, if you can bear it. There was only the tiniest hint of the same nerves on the beach, although she didn’t make it look easy. I think now that she’s got past that, the rest of this year may bring some serious silverwa… some serious titles. (I also think Tan Ya Ting might go on a winning run when she finally takes a major gong). The day finishes with a horrible gold match between Mike Schloesser and Kris Schaff that neither of them, apparently, want to win. Compound at its most neurotic and depressing.
Recurve Saturday brings bizarre winds, and endless second guessing. I took some pictures. The wind is coming from the sea, but the arrows are posting to the right. Also, the way the venue is set up gives a kind of optical illusion to the horizon. Archers seem to be leaning to compensate. The local crew have done pretty well, but it’s pretty difficult making a completely flat arena on a sloping stone beach. Almost a field archery problem. Germany’s women, once they get going, are only narrowly beaten by Korea, who are barely better.
The GBR men take a deserved medal against Malaysia, helped along by the collapse of the Malay second shooter. The Brits had to change their flight as they were booked to return Saturday; ArcheryGB apparently deciding that it was unlikely that any of them would make a final. I’ve long mulled over the financial and psychological ramifications of doing this. The team looks good. Seems like there must be better options available. Then Japan’s men push Korea’s men hard, especially in the last two sets. The result is as expected, but something seems to be in the air.
Turkey thump Chinese Taipei in recurve for a bronze. It’s a stunning coup really. They deserve it. They outshoot them. Then the real upset comes, as Japan sweep aside Korea for mixed team gold. Hyejin looks exhausted. There’s something in her face, waiting to go on, that says she doesn’t want to be there. Like, she’s had enough. Japan look great, Korea look bad.
Then Lei Chien-Ying, who seems to be de facto captaining the Taipei women these days, looked incredibly confident and dominant in her dismantling of Lee Eun-Gyeong. Probably, quietly, the performance of the day. Watch it again. She knows she’s going to win. Two losses, and she walks back on like she has it won anyway.
When Perova walks on, you could sort of sense the repeat of Mexico waiting to happen, and after the first end, you pretty much knew it was going to. I’ve written before about Perova, and her brutalist approach to archery; her technique is ugly, but effective, and she seems to be utterly free of any self-doubt whatsoever at one crucial moment: whenever she steps onto the line. It may be a Russian cliche, ‘do or die’. But it works. And so it proves. It’s a scrappy, dreadful match really, and by the denoument, you just knew the shoot-off was only going one way. Perova defends her title, and Korea have lost three recurve finals in a row.
Chang just looks glad that it’s over. The Korean Archery Association, in their infinitely opaque wisdom, have decided that she and Woojin are the mixed team this year, not basing it on ranking round scores like most (but not all) archery nations.
The problem is that if she has to pull a triple shift like today – team, mixed team and individual – the familiarity of the arena is outweighed by the exhaustion of maintaining focus over such a long day of shooting, outdoors, in the heat, with all the noise and expectation around you. It’s a lot of weight on some very tiny shoulders.
The day before, So Chaewon had had to pull a quadruple shift: team, mixed team, individual and then make-up retouched and back out to accept the Longines prize. A lovely problem to have, but the poor girl was sitting with her head in her hands by the end. It’s more work that it looks.
The day finishes with the Korean men putting on a masterclass, and a showcase match of almost sublime quality between Lee Woo Seok and Kim Woojin. The sight of three white shirts on the podium rather smooths over the fact that Korea lost three in a row. I twice watched an assembly of archers and coaches from [major archery nation] cheering loudly when Korea got thumped. You felt the actual quality hadn’t gone, but the big Asian and other nations that can match them in technique must be emboldened. Their knack of just winning seemed to desert them.
It remains, of course, to be seen whether any of the other Asian squads will be able to ‘do the big job’ and snatch gold in Jakarta. But some of the spell seemed have gone away by the end of the day. Korea will be absent from the Salt Lake stage. Which means Berlin will be very interesting indeed.
So many other things I could tell. Which [famous archer] ‘forgot’ to do their media interview, and left the venue, despite the interview having been pre-sold to [name of TV channel] in [country] and had to be ‘recalled’ by a rather important member of the archery community? Who got involved in a thrilling altercation at an airport? Which [gender] team from [major archery nation] finished Saturday pounding so many beers by the Rixos pool that two of them had to walk one of their very unsteady coaches back to their room? But unfortunately, I’m bound by the same rules that apply to bands: what happens on tour, stays on tour. You’ll just have to wait till I see you next. 🙂
*This originally said that it was the third highest score in history. Thanks to Nick Taylor-Jones for pointing out that the third highest was Kim Bubmin’s 698 at London 2012, unfortunately and unluckily overshadowed by Im Dong-Hyun breaking the record with 699 at the same event.
In a frankly worrying development for US archery, a New York assemblywoman called Linda Rosenthal, is trying to get a bill passed in the local legislature that would ban all shooting sports – including archery – as part of a crackdown on ‘gun culture’. Rosenthal says she introduced her bill after reports that the suspect in the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, Nikolas Cruz, honed his gun skills through a program in the same school where he’s accused of killing 17 people. As Time magazine noted:
Rosenthal’s bill would also ban school archery programs, which are promoted by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and include 34,000 students in 320 schools.
Janna Recchio of Rome in central New York said her 11-year-old daughter, Gina, was introduced to archery in fifth-grade gym class in January and just two months later was able to qualify for the national tournament in Louisville, Kentucky.
“It’s a great hobby for her,” Recchio says. “She’s very focused, controlled and calm.”
Without getting into the wider debate around gun culture in the US, this is a terrible development, because it lumps our sport in as merely part of a bundle of ‘shooting sports’, when it is (while related) for almost all intents and purposes something completely different from gun sports. While a handful of national federations (e.g. Germany) bring archery and shooting under the same umbrella, in most cases these are separate both logistically and often culturally too.
Worse, it it merely indicative of a general public ignorance around archery and a political desire to paint in broad brush strokes, rather than actually tackling the problem at hand. I don’t know much about archery in New York state – I’ve only been to Gotham Archery in NYC, and that is an indoor commercial range in the same, very very safe vein as many modern shops around the world – but getting rid of a junior program with that many people is obviously an appalling idea.
I am personally very ambivalent about crossbows, although I admit know very little about modern crossbow shooting. (You can decide for yourself if crossbows are or are not archery). Am very sure that crossbow groups are as safely run and well-organised as any other, but several recent high profile incidents in the UK have gone some way to reinforcing the general public notion that crossbows are dangerous and mostly bought by idiots. The problem is that archery as a collective community – from clubs to governing bodies – have little to gain by welcoming crossbows fully into the fold. Archery’s stock, as a sporting brand, is still in the ascendant, and any increase of the public perception that ‘archery is dangerous’ is only going to hurt that.
Whatever happens in New York state, it is a reminder that modern archery exists in many places because of public perceptions of its utility and safety, and we as a community need to be continuously vigilant to make sure that people are educated about the sport.
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.
Peng Chia-Mao Photo: World Archery
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.
So there were days – 1989, to be exact – when archery was on the list of activities manly enough to advertise scent-of-the-era Drakkar Noir, along with skiing (indoors?), boxing, what looks like pool on a glass tabletop, and some dice. Oh, and speedboating. They really pack it in to 15 seconds.
Needless to say, it’s pretty bad. Leaning back. Gripping the riser. No chestguard – be careful, there. It’s more interesting that archery, in 1989, had a place amongst hypothetical sophisticated Euro-man’s panoply of ripped activities. That it could sell something.
That it sold Drakkar Noir, a cologne so of its 1980s time that it’s even mentioned in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, is quite telling.
N.B it defaults to voiceover (or it did on mine, anyway). Check the settings and make sure you have the original Hindi soundtrack and English subs on.
Just 40 minutes long, it’s beautifully shot and edited. When I heard about it last year, I was nervous that it would use her story as some kind of sappy moralist cipher. Am pleased to see they’ve done a lot better than that, even if it is a bit heavy-handed in places
As the most often-repeated soundbite goes, Kumari was ‘born on the roadside’ in grinding poverty in rural India, before her rise to (almost) the very top of the sport. Apparently, she only took it up because there was a place to stay at a local sport academy – as she puts it: “I thought if I left home, there would be more money.”
India recently ranked bottom in a recent survey of G20 countries of ‘the best place to be a woman’. Almost 45 percent of Indian girls are married before they turn 18. In poor regions like Jharkand, around 60% of girls are married before they are 16, and often younger. In rural India, there is a particularly deep antipathy to women taking up any kind of sport.
Deepika Kumari in the call room, Rio 2016
But nevertheless, she persisted. The film shows her uncle being very proud that he beat up her mother. It shows the utterly shitty treatment of her as an athlete – which, if you read about the various tribulations of the Archery Association of India in the last year or two, doesn’t look like it’s entirely over yet.
But Ladies First is already having an effect – after watching the documentary, Maneka Gandhi, the Indian minister of Women’s Affairs and Child Development, apparently pledged to set up a fund to support Deepika’s training and to support other female athletes. Well, it’s about time. The film graphically shows the remarkable discrepancies within Indian Olympic sport, with the women’s archery team making the 32 hour journey to Rio in economy, while their accompanying officials travelled business class.
Kumari was apparently reluctant at first to participate in the film because it might interfere with her Rio preparation, but eventually grew to trust the filmmakers enough to open up further than ever before. “The story is about fighting,” director Shaana Levy-Bahl said to Vogue India last week. “Sports gives girls a sense of worth and confidence.”
Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to meet Deepika several times, although I’ve found her very difficult to interview, about anything. Recently I wondered if she might not be totally comfortable speaking in English. So the last time, in Rome, I asked her and her coach if she wanted to speak in Hindi, so I could get it translated, but she wasn’t having it. I did a piece with what I had, but it really wasn’t much. Ach, maybe it’s just me. 🙂
But I could entirely understand her wariness of talking to me/men/anybody, as the Indian media is notoriously sexist and frequently vicious about their sportspeople, and even more so when they are from Jharkand (for a comparison, imagine how the most reactionary media in your country would react to a gypsy Olympian). The film includes an incident in 2013 with Kumari and her teammates, fresh from a Hyundai Archery World Cup victory (where they beat Korea) being harassed to the point of tears by TV crews at Indira Ghandi airport.
Deepika Kumari and teammates at the Antalya World Cup 2017
The endemic sexism in the Indian media frequently extends to the language of reporting; when male archers get beaten, they were “overpowered”, but when Kumari gets beaten, she “meekly succumbed”.
Apparently Kumari is about to star in a movie about her homeland. Perhaps her archery career is just getting going. Perhaps – like her recent nemesis Tan Ya-Ting – she needs just one big major win to open the floodgates. But it’s clear that her role as a beacon of what is possible is just beginning.