So I went to the very last Wroclaw World Cup to work for the World Archery comms team; the third time I’ve done this gig after stints in Antalya and Shanghai – although it’s not my first time in Wroclaw.
It was hot. Seriously, if you’d turned up in Poland, of all places, for a lying-by-the-pool sun holiday you wouldn’t have been disappointed. 35ºC / 95ºF and sunny all day right up until Sunday which was mostly overcast and muggy. Sounds great: until you have to sit in a sweltering tent, with sweat running off you, with every laptop and server fan screaming, desperately trying to keep the infrastructure working, and everything getting covered in dust. All. Day. Long. Every afternoon we kept dreaming of the lovely air-conditioned hotel and its infinite supply of lovely cold Polish beer.
You can read what we wrote about it and find all the results here. It was a much quieter affair than previous World Cups and the World Championships in Copenhagen. Many nations were saving their budgets or their archers for a double bill of the Medellin leg and the Rio test event.
Several familiar archery nations were absent (Korea, Chinese Taipei, Great Britain, Australia), fielding alternate teams (China, Japan), missing many/all of their usual recurves (Denmark, the Netherlands) or even flying solo self-funded without coaches (Mexico, Canada). Many team line-ups saw at least one change from Copenhagen.
The USA were particularly prominent on both finals days, and took home a spectacular recurve haul on Sunday. At least a couple of the performances were really strong and would have tested the best Asian first teams. The individual finals on Sunday were probably the highlight, and you can watch them here.
Previously I’ve extensively typed up what I got up to, but I’m not going to do that this time. I took a lot of photographs, and for the first time had a decent set of lenses which (mostly) worked pretty well, although I could have done with about another 100mm of focal length. I’ve been working on keeping things a little simpler; trying to improve the workflow and the image detail. It started slowly, but 1500 shots later I got a few I was pretty pleased with.
Naturally, Dean was there doing his usual superb work. I didn’t try to directly duplicate what he does, and tried to look for other things and other angles – although I couldn’t resist a ‘sunglasses-target-reflection’ or two. But I couldn’t resist borrowing (OK, stealing) a few of his ideas. Standing on the shoulders of giants and all that. OK, enjoy.
Thanks, as usual, to Chris Wells, Dean Alberga and the rest of the WA team.
(not really. Also, both stand-up guys to interview.)
Ane Marcelle dos Santos
I caught this picture just after what was clearly a bad shot when she turned towards the camera. The next frame is more of a scowl. I’m basically an asshole.
Recurve – men’s eliminations
Collin Klimitchek (left), Anton Prilepov (right)
Mahji Laxmirani (left), Rimil Buriuly
Still not sure what to do with expanses of scrubby grass. I love the lines and the rare chance to get a completely clean shot of an archer with anyone else or a lot of scopes getting in the way. But a lot of grass looks odd in a colour shot. Monochrome seemed the way to go.
Anton Prilepov, Alena Kuzniatsova
Nancy El Gibily
Sophie Planeix had a slightly fussy, almost ‘prim’ style which took her centre of gravity forward. Still, can’t argue with a finals place.
The Brazilian team had been on the road over five weeks. There were some great perfomances, but you could sort of sense they were all ready to go home.
Usquiano was way off her previous form in the final, and looked upset and uncomfortable throughout. I almost had an amazing shot of her bowing her head with Avdeeva punching the air. Is it remotely in focus? Is it bollocks. The ones that get away. (Chris was very pleased with this one.)
Stephan “The King Of Denmark” Hansen
The fountains behind only properly erupted once an hour. Never quite managed to get the perfect shot of them and someone on the line. Tried, though.
Finally, after a few years of trying, I manage to get an image of Brady Ellison that gets close to capturing the intensity of the performance. He’d not seemed entirely comfortable in the anchor role all week, and a couple of team chances went begging. It looked at times like Collin was the one holding the team together. You could sense the pressure – probably self-inflicted.
But when he needed to deliver it, on the last arrow, it was there. He found it. It was great to be that close when he did.
A left hander on the German team I’d not seen before. I enjoyed his confident and elegant draw.
Delivered the fightback of the week against Mackenzie Brown in the final. She’d been nailing the shootoffs all Thursday long, not out here though.
Richter has a habit of closing her eyes, being very still and going ‘into the tank’ between head-to-head shots. It was great to watch. And it worked.
Great archer, great to watch, really nice guy in person. As good as it gets.
In May 2015 I went to the first stage of the 2015 Archery World Cup to work for World Archery, reporting for the website and interviewing athletes. This is a personal account of what I got up to. You can watch the finals, read the news pieces I had a hand in, and check the results here: http://www.worldarchery.org/EVENTS/World-Cup/2015/Shanghai
Shanghai goes on and on and on. Long before you reach the actual city itself, you fly in over a flat, repetitive landscape which is entirely man made. Smallholdings, vast canals carving up tracts of land, and factories. This is the manufacturing belt. Most of the world’s consumer goods are produced within fifty miles of Shanghai. Just with what I have in my bag on the plane, it looks like I’m taking my headphones back to see their ancestral home, and my camera lens. And my MacBook. And my iPhone. Probably the chargers, possibly the pens, probably the bag fabric if not the bag. Probably at least half of my archery kit. It’s all made here.
Pudong District, Shanghai
I am driven in from Pudong airport with most of the Brazilian recurve team, an hour on the road through an immense grey sprawl. Our hotel, one of two housing the archery circus, is a 90s curiosity with a gaudy lobby maintaining a grandiose, marbled air of communist-era theatrics. The main tower goes up 42 stories, and in my room on the 39th there is a Blade Runner-esque view of the Pudong district at night. To the north is a vertical jumble that stretches to the horizon, and everywhere, everywhere they are still building, for countless miles in every direction. It makes the London development boom look like a man considering a new shed in B&Q.
The archery world cup has seen a permanent edition here in Shanghai since 2009 and will be here for at least another five years; it is now a defining part of the series. The story starts again tomorrow.
Oliver Haidn, Germany’s head recurve coach.
Official practice day. Glorious sunshine. The athletes and staff are ferried from the hotels a couple of miles to the Yuanshen football stadium in a fleet of coaches, buses, minivans and taxis. Driving in central Shanghai is a furious, honking jungle where only drivers who sharpen their wits survive. It’s like driving in Rome with even more smoking. Luckily our driver has the sixth sense necessary to make a left-hand turn across six lanes of traffic with mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians flying in all directions.
Once inside, there is an entire World Archery staff and ten judges to fit out with brand new uniforms courtesy of sponsor FILA, and the media room resembles a branch of Sports Direct shortly before Saturday closing. Next door is the technical and scoring room, maintained by Matteo Pisani and his mostly Italian team. They have coffee in there. We also need to re-photograph every athlete and coach on the field for accreditation. There’s a lot of work to do.
Once in in my spiffy new uniform, my job here is to report for the World Archery website, and specifically, interviewing athletes. I work under Chris Wells, the head of communication; for the first few days, we split the work – I mostly do recurve and he mostly does compound. The days are long, and it never really stops. You end up dreaming about it.
I am also taking a lot more photographs these days on my own account. Shortly before leaving I invested in a second-hand Tamron 70-300mm telephoto zoom, which is giving me better results than I expected. When there is nothing dramatic happening, getting out on the field and taking photos is a way of shaking things up – not only can dicking around with a camera be a good way of ingratiating yourself with people, it can be a generative act in itself. If you can find something interesting in the frame, it might be interesting as part of the narrative of the event too.
However, I realised a long time ago that there is no point in trying to replicate what Dean Alberga is doing; I don’t have the talent, the equipment or the extensive personal access that he has built up over the years. More to the point, I don’t have the remit – that’s his job. So I try to look for other things, shapes and lines, odd moments, and often things not at full draw. My photography is improving, although I am still amazed at Dean’s reaction time and his ability to deliver such amazing work so fast. It is by standing on the shoulders of giants that I manage to get one of my pictures used by the Korean Archery Association, and another, later in the week, by ArcheryGB.
I am working through a jet-lagged fog for the first couple of days, and it’s difficult to concentrate. (I’m not the only one – I see archers asleep all over the field for the first couple of days). A decent night’s sleep proves elusive all week, and we all make frequent runs for energy sustaining treats. I have never worked on any team with a sweeter tooth, and the parade of hot chocolates, cream buns, ice creams, cheese cake and sugary Chinese delights that appear over the course of the tournament would make a diabetic hyperventilate. And who would have guessed that one of the Colombian compound team was a fully-qualified dentist?
The ranking round itself. The shakedown. It’s a bit like going through the education system – it’s not necessarily going to dictate your fate in life, but it’s really likely to.
The Korean women are here. The rock stars. These people are gods. Everyone wants a photo with them; volunteers, staff, judges, coaches, other athletes, security guards. I manage to restrain myself. This time.
Kang “The Destroyer” Chae Young and Choi Misun.
Today, lucky me, I get to talk to a astonishing list of athletes. I get to talk to men called Brady, Crispin, Taylor and Reo and women called Maja, Deepika, Aida and Bo Bae. I talk to Asian Games champion Esmaili Ebadi. I talk to Brazilian wunderkind Marcus D’Almeida, who has been feeling the pressure. I talk to the extraordinary Zahra Nemati. I talk to several of Team GB, who are not having the best meet. We talk to the interesting squad from Bhutan at their first world cup.
The stadium gets floodlit after 5pm, lending proceedings an unreal air. A lot of hopes are dashed. All that work, and what to show for it? There’s a lot of frustration in this world. Over the course of the week I get to hear a mountain of bitching, several official “no comments” on the subject of coaches, well-known athletes describing other well-known athletes as “f**king shit” and “that greedy f**king bitch”, and a great deal of incredibly salacious and occasionally entirely scandalous gossip about everyone and everything in elite archery. I would love to be able to share it all with you, dear reader, but I can’t. I’ve been in bands long enough to know that what happens on tour, stays on tour. Them’s the rules. Although you could sum quite a lot of it up as: not all the scoring takes place on the field.
Individual qualification. The top 8 in each discipline are byed through two rounds. In recurve, this includes seven of the eight Koreans, and the first couple of rounds, from some angles, look like a sideshow until the doors of the shark cage swing open.
Today I get to interview former Chinese national archer Zhang Juan Juan with the help of our local fixer Alex. She won individual Olympic gold at Beijing 2008, beating three Koreans back-to-back on the way. She’s good fun, clearly experienced at fielding media questions, and has the relaxed air of a sports champion who will never have to buy a drink again. (You can read this interview here).
As the competition closes up, with recurve and compound on the field at the same time, it’s hard to keep track of what is going on and Dean, Chris and myself run around furiously trying to keep up. With the big screen only cycling information every couple of minutes, you rely on other things. I mean, you can tell by the way Aida Roman walks off the field whether she’s won her match or not. As it becomes clear that there is barely a crack in the Korean recurve machine, interest and athletes drift away. I watch the carnage continue and chat to the sharp and fascinating Bernado Oliveira of the Brazilian team, who has had a great run today.
Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world, phone pic out of the taxi window.
Work wise, we are having trouble with the creaking Chinese internet, which falls over every few minutes like a clattered-into-bowstand. The scores aren’t updating fast enough. We need access to the databases to get anything down, and most of us have to use a VPN to leap The Great Firewall Of China, which adds an extra layer of tedium. Matteo and the rest of his team are late every night fixing technical niggles, swearing in Italian. The Iranian squad bring us a gift of a huge sack of roasted pistachio nuts seasoned with ras-el-hanout, the shells of which soon cover every inch of the media room. Most nights we miss our hotel dinner working. There’s not enough coffee. It’s a hard life. It’s not, really. I wouldn’t have missed today for the world.
Team rounds. Compared to the previous days, they don’t take long. It’s the last stage of competition before the finals, so unless you’ve made those, that’s it for the week. Those last two points. That one arrow that just hates you. Most teams at these events are booked on unchangeable flights, and have to sit around for two to four days before heading home to jobs and families. Options are pretty limited: train, sightsee cheaply, support teammates who have made the weekend finals, and always: wonder what might have been.
After the weekend’s shooting has been decided the production team heads for the finals field on the picturesque waterfront. We are all crammed into two tents by the immensely busy Huangpu river, the busiest river by traffic in the world, across the way from the Bund. Not a minute goes by without a low-in-the-water freighter carrying aggregates or a ridiculous gaudy sightseeing boat going past, and the foghorn blasts reverberate for five whole seconds back and forth across the water. The Shanghai bells punctuate things frequently. We run through a technical rehearsal in torrential rain, with some unlucky lads from the Singapore team having to stand out there and shoot in the pissing gloom.
For some reason the Korean coach has agreed to my request to interview the women’s team. I have hurriedly got a long list of questions translated into Korean on paper (thank you Jessica!), the list is a mix of philosophical and slightly more personal; we have been trying to ‘open up’ a few teams to add more depth and colour to the coverage. “Is perfectionism a positive aspect or a negative aspect?” and “When you are away at a tournament, what do you take to remind yourself of home?”. Not many archers are used to this kind of thing.
In the evening, I wait nervously in the lobby. At the appointed time Ki Bo Bae, Chang Hye Jin, Kang “The Destroyer” Chae Young, Choi Misun and Mr. Kim, one of the six Korean coaches out here, all troop down to the hotel bar, all dressed in black, eyeing me slightly suspiciously. I sit there with four of the greatest target archers in the world, and turn my recorder on. It turns out they have all read the list of questions I helpfully provided in advance and are fighting amongst themselves to answer them. Ki Bo Bae elbows me in the ribs when I ask her “What do you like to spend money on?” There is a lot of laughing and it ends up going pretty well, with a stark moment from Chang Hye Jin, who answers my question about heroes like this: “Hero? What kind of hero? Like, my own hero? God. God is my hero.”
I just got elbowed in the ribs by Ki Bo Bae. I JUST GOT ELBOWED IN THE RIBS BY KI BO BAE.
Compound finals day, aka ‘Compound Saturday’. We open for business at 11am. It’s hot. The sort of muggy weather that makes nylon stick to skin. I am sat next to the local Chinese crew member responsible for the video screens, who spends most of the next two days asleep with his head on the desk. Still, I have an excellent view of the line and don’t even have to stand up to take a decent photograph of right-handers. The Swiss TV production team, who communicate in French, take up most of the room, although English is the lingua franca of everybody working. Everyone has a vital job to do. There are no spare cogs in this machine.
Last time I was doing this gig in Antalya I managed to walk in front of a TV camera whilst trying to get some dumb photo for Twitter and deservedly incurred the terrifying wrath of Marion, one of the TV producers. I decide to make sure there is absolutely no chance of doing this again and avoid the field of play entirely, so going back and forth to the production tent involves a long walk round the main stand and then chasing athletes up and down a long stretch of waterfront. There’s a lot of walking-and-talking. I must have covered about five miles a day. Also, I start interviewing athletes on camera for the Hit The Roof team, instead of just getting audio. The Korean and Japanese men are better friends than I imagined. Lee Seungyun speaks English, but doesn’t like to *ahem* talk about it. This is all very strange.
Of many highlights today, I get to speak to Dominique Genet, veteran French compound archer. A man with a face that looks as if it was carved out of granite. A man who ends up taking home a 16th world cup medal. A man who answers all my questions with an entirely Gallic, utterly disinterested shrug. He’s awesome.
Recurve Sunday brings with it a ratcheting up of everything we already had on compound Saturday: more people, noise, media, volunteers, VIPs, gladhandling, sunshine, and things to do. The crowd is such that the seats are filled an hour before kickoff and people are thoroughly annoyed at being locked out.
Ki Bo Bae sizing up the empty finals field.
As the Korean National Championships unfold, we are relying on a mix of the ever cheerful Mr. Kim and remote audio translation (thank you Jessica!) to get as much as we can out of the squad. We can barely get the Korean athletes to the media zone in time for an interview before they have to get them back on for another match – or a medal. The mens team get clipped by Japan in windy conditions, giving us our morning story. Ki Bo Bae is a big star here; her name, announced twice, gets the biggest roar of the day. The sole Chinese team to make it to the weekend, contesting the less-glamorous mixed team bronze match, unfortunately fail to medal and have to face a angry-looking local media scrum.
Unfortunately, the display of Korean dominance doesn’t make for great theatre. By the time it gets to the women’s individual final, you can sense that the energy has gone out of the crowd a little. Teammate battles are never that exciting, but the day has several other great matches to recommend it. It’s a privilege to watch this close.
There’s a bit in the rather corpulent Korean national anthem that sounds like the last verse of Once In Royal David’s City including the descant. I have now heard it enough times to be able to hum along. As the last medal and Longines watches are handed out, the media wing of the tent begins a race against time to file the stories, photos and video before the entire production is entirely torn down around our ears.
Night falls. People leave for flights. The flightcases are filled, we leave the waterfront shortly after nightfall, and go for pizza and rather more than one cocktail. The gaudy boats are passing back and forth, and the skyscrapers are glowing bright. Trade is good. Shanghai will survive without us for another year.
There were many people I’d like to thank for this opportunity and making me feel so welcome, but especially:
I arrive in Poland like a hurricane that’s just been downgraded to a tropical storm. I am knackered from a stupidly early flight from London; luckily World Archery are kind enough to pick me up from the airport for a token exchange of zloty. I get to the field just as the mens and womens compound qualifications are winding up. Two football fields knocked together in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, built in the 1920’s when Wroclaw was still a part of Germany. Apparently it was renamed with the ‘Olympic’ bit in the folorn hope of hosting some of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You know… that one. My host is Maciej. He has a dry, and frankly, British sense of humour. I like him immediately. I am given a green ‘media’ bib that makes me look like a fat leprechaun linesman. Just as I arrive, double World Cup champion Sergio Pagni breaks the European record for the 50 metre compound round with a staggering 714 out of 720. He looks superbly pleased with himself in the awesome way only an giant Italian man can be. “Can I take one more picture?” “OHH, yes.” What a man.
I get the largest coffee I can scrounge. It’s pretty easy to tell how things are going even without the single scoreboard screen next to the entrance. You can easily see an air of despondency hanging over some of the camps. They play some frankly strange choices of music in between ends; I hear ‘Punky Reggae Party‘ closely followed by ‘Bette Davis Eyes‘. (Still, that’s better than whoever was ‘DJing’ at London 2012, when Lords was treated to the Macarena just after a crucial semi). Slowly the forests of expensive hardware, mostly Hoyt, are packed away and the targets get moved back to 70m ready for the recurve men and women. There’s a five-way shoot off for the coveted eighth spot won by Dave Cousins. Erika Jones of the USA came top of the women’s ranking, and submits to an interview. Danielle Brown and John Stubbs, two of Team GB’s finest, are solidly placed for the next day.
A dozen nationalities. It’s a bit of an archery nerd’s paradise. You only have to turn round too fast and you realise you’ve knocked over Viktor Ruban‘s bow stand. Look! there’s… oh, and… and… OMG!… wow, that’s… everybody. The collective talent is terrifying. I even get a smile and a respectful nod from Dean Alberga, the international archery photography capo di tutti capo, resplendent in his ‘Media 01’ bib. The recurves are warming up in the practice field next door, including a full-strength Korean squad, all of whom are byed straight through to the next day after an utterly dominant display in the qualification FITA round on Tuesday.
Teams wander past. Coaches are spread thinly amongst three man or women squad members, who might be eighty metres apart down the field, and have to frequently split loyalties. I speak to the ridiculously young Becky Martin, who is on her own waiting to start the 1/48 eliminations. She did well yesterday, coming 36th out of 90, in her first World Cup. How do you feel, Becky? “Pretty good, was pretty happy, made the top half of the draw.” How was warming up this morning? “Just did a bit, not too much.” Her bow shoulder is troubling her. What’s the problem? “Not sure, I don’t know anything about anatomy!”. She seems confident though, and proves it by hammering Holly Stover of the USA 7-1 in the 1/48. I watch Amy Oliver‘s shot cycle carefully. Her technique is fantastic, but the pause after each shot, where she collects herself, head down, looks like she is staring into an abyss of her own making. Whatever. She beats her first Turkish opponent convincingly.
In the 1/24, I watch the match between Elisa Barnard of Australia and Ika Rochmawati of Indonesia; where the collective support of Archery Australia has lent proceedings more of a Test cricket feel than most matches this evening. Unfortunately, she slumps to a defeat, as does Rebecca Martin. Naomi Folkard, conqueror of the World Games, goes through to the last 32 against Jennifer Hardy of the USA who is still wearing a shirt with her maiden name on the back.
I briefly catch up with Taylor Worth on the practice field as the men prepare for the eliminations. Regular readers will remember that I interviewed him for the blog a couple of weeks ago. He isn’t feeling strong. “Not the best comp I’ve ever had.” He finished 67th of 98 in the ranking round. Could be worse, I suggest? “Not really.” His body language screams that it’s just not happening today, and it seems to prove self-fulfilling; he gets thumped 6-2. Kieran Slater of Team GB, who had a disastrous qualification, gets thrashed by the hero of Antalya, Juan-Rene Serrano of Mexico. The set play is difficult for a spectator, with the long wait as the clock counts down and the athletes trudge across the field and add up the arrows, relaying them to the handheld digital devices that link directly to the live scores that beam round the world:
…and finally change the resolutely manual Velcro scoreboard below the targets. Of course, I should have brought a scope or binoculars, like the vast majority of participants.
Someone asked about the gear. There’s not much to say really, because everyone pretty much uses exactly the same stuff; Hoyt F4/F7 and Ion risers or Inno Max / Inno-Ex Prime, you have to look long and hard to find something not made up of at least one of that lot. You’re nobody without your customised Angel quiver though. I did enjoy Thomas Faucheron‘s Uukha plus Blades kit. The stealth bomber of bows:
Team GB have had a fairly ropey day; Larry Godfrey is out. A final trace of sun does a late streak across the field. It’s the kind of light I have been hoping to take photographs in all day, but unfortunately things are winding up, finished by an exciting double shoot off between Daniel McLaughlin of the USA and Bernado Oliviera of Brazil, the first of which is deemed to close to call. There’s a slightly downcast collective air as everyone trudges to the buses, a mixture of exhaustion and the terrible ennui, for half the recurvers, of failing to make the cut. In Four Iron In The Soul by Lawrence Donegan, one of the best books about golf ever written, the constant misery of failing to make the cut, the next day, is replayed endlessly. The emotional turmoil of matches that you know, deep down, that you could win – but don’t – must eat into these people’s souls.
Not everybody, though. Deepika Kumari sits in the seat in front of me, and softly sings all the way back to the hotel.
Full scores for the day are here. Many more pics here. Tomorrow: mixed teams, compound eliminations to the last 32, recurve eliminations to the last 2.