So I beat an Olympic champion in Rome this weekend.
Only joking. I spent a load of money and flew all the way to Rome to shoot like absolute garbage in front of an audience of my peers and friends. But apart from that, I had a pretty good time.
The inaugural Roma Archery Trophy wasn’t held very near anything in Rome you might ever have heard of. It was held in hall 9 of a vast, sprawling exhibition and conference centre complex called Fieri di Roma, which is out near the airport. Previous foreign visitors were unimpressed. As is pretty usual in these kinds of situations, I had no time at all to go and see or do a damn thing apart from eat and sleep in the tidy-but-gouging Sheraton hotel a few minutes drive from the venue.
Many archers managed to make some kind of a holiday out of it, in the Eternal City. I didn’t. I had no time before or after. I flew in, saw some ring roads, and flew out. Apart from the excellent coffee, I could almost have been in Coventry. Or indeed, anywhere. I’m not knocking the venue or the organisers at all; it’s got to be held somewhere, and the place had good lighting and mostly ran well. For some reason, we were picked up at the airport in a police van, and shuttled from hotel to venue in a camouflage Italian air force military bus. You don’t get that in Telford. (You don’t get much of anything in Telford, though).
Back to the garbage. For some weeks and months beforehand, despite being in possession of an excellent top-of-the-line Hoyt recurve bow, I had been seized with a curious notion that it would be an excellent idea to have a second setup, a low poundage ‘indoor setup’ with aluminium Eclipse X7s, that would be both forgiving and fun to shoot, all based around the novelty that is the Spigarelli Revolution riser. I spent a large amount of money, an inordinate amount of time, and an awful lot of mental energy trying to make this work. I doggedly stuck with it, working out some of the niggles.
And… it didn’t work. It sounded beautiful, like opening a fizzy bottle of water. The arrows flew straight, after a great deal of help from Mark, my tuning guru. But I never got the bareshafts doing anything consistent (I now know that aluminiums don’t really ‘work’ for bareshaft tuning like carbons). There’s something straight-up odd about the clicker, and there was something wild about the combinations. You could sense with it that in the right hands it could do some damage, but the word of the day was ‘unforgiving’. It magnified errors, like a gleeful, sadistic teacher. My Hoyt sounds clunky and ugly but it is forgiving and far more consistent with carbon arrows.
Regular readers may know quite how difficult I find recurve archery, and how, whatever else I’ve managed to achieve around the edges of the sport, my utterly cack-handed ineptitude around the technical side of it and the deep lack of the discipline required have shamed me for ever, despite the fantastic help I have had and the kindness I have been shown by many people (you know who you are). And I keep telling people I’m not very good at this, and they think I’m being modest. I’m not. I really am atrocious at it, on a performance level at least. Even more frustratingly, there’s kind of a good shot developing. But I do not have the time and I do not have the energy to put the work into making it happen. That’s not an excuse. It’s just reality.
Nevertheless, I keep sticking my head above the parapet. I’ve committed to the stupid bow and I put it in a case and take it to Rome. They say you can only beat who’s put in front of you, right? Well, I was stuck on a target with the big man himself: Oh Jin Hyek, the 2012 Olympic champion, and a couple of very polite and pleasant Italian guys called Tommi and Giuseppe. Our line was the second up at 9am on the Saturday morning. I’d squished in an hour of scrappy practice the preceding evening, and I knew the game was up for putting in a serious score, but I’m feeling OK. I take a decision: I’m here to learn. What, though?
I’m really looking forward to shooting with Oh. He’s been a minor hero of mine ever since London 2012. I’ve been lucky enough to speak to him a few times. I like his pugnacious spirit and his dark, gritty approach to the sport, plus he seems to have a sense of humour. He’s fighting time and years and his shoulders are giving him trouble. He’s just become a dad. He looked tired and haggard on the circuit this year. How long can he hang on in the world of Korean professional archery? Yet he pulled a major indoor win out of the bag in Macau, showing the kind of minor-god form he has always been capable of. I could learn something from him, couldn’t I? Something useful.
So at 8.30, on the line, we are sitting there waiting for him. The next target along is waiting for one of his Hyundai Steel teammates. We do all the pacing and stretching and shaking hands and pre-flight checks you do. The clock creeps on. Five minutes until showtime. What, did they get stuck in traffic or something? On Saturday morning? No. It seems very un-Korean. But he’s not here. No Oh. Oh no. There’s nothing I can learn close up today.
We kick off. Three practice ends. Then I step back onto the line. Top, middle, bottom. Stance. Keep your head still. I draw, it seems good. Anchor seems there. It gets away. And lands about four inches to the left of the top target.
It’s happening again. It’s fucking happening again. I did this all a couple of weeks ago in a similar shed in Stoneleigh. The first arrow on the top face hooks hard to the left. Frequently. Not the bottom faces. Just the top one. Sometimes I manage to drill it. Mostly, it hooks. The little aluminium bastard. That’s not all. Am getting weird up and down errors, which I thought were tuning problems I’d ironed out. Turns out, of course, they weren’t tuning problems. They were me problems. It’s not the gear, it’s the archer. Or it’s both together. Or one isn’t helping the other.
An end or two in, Chris Marsh comes over. They’ve texted Oh. Him and Ku Bonchan and some other members of the Hyundai Steel team never left Korea. They didn’t bother telling anyone. (Hyundai Steel are different from Hyundai Mobis, who did turn up to dominate the women’s line, and Hyundai Department Store, who are another set entirely). No one is quite sure why. It may be related to the complex fallout from the cancellation of the Seoul Open, which needless to say has caused embarrassment and blame across Korean archery circles.
It would have been nice to learn something from Oh, but I suspect would have needed to try and get it out of him over a beer. I cannot think straight. I cannot concentrate, at all. I have spent months horribly overworked and distracted, desperately trying to persuade my brain to do some deep level thinking, to quiet down. I’ve been getting weird shooting pains in my arms when I type, and I do an awful lot of typing. I’m getting them now, writing this. I’ve been getting strange flashes of pain across my shoulders. Because all I ever do is work; and any spare time is spent trying to work out a variety of complicated personal issues. Archery is a tool for self-examination, and sometimes it reveals too much. I have nothing left.
Five or six ends in, I have two misses, with all arrows going way low. I suddenly realise that my sight has almost fallen off. I bought it because I though it looked cool. It still does. But it’s going in the bin. Looking again at the carnage of the scorecard, there’s some half-decent archery hiding underneath the crappy misses and the struggling.
There was one particular flash of joy, one brief glimmer of something worth turning up for; on the back nine, I suddenly have a few seconds of clarity, pull confidently and hard, anchor strong, and get a crisp release. And, of course, the thing pings into the middle of the ten. Because it was right. Because I can do it right. I just seem to be incapable of making myself do it on cue.
I send down the last six just wanting it to be over. Once again, I have plugged in to a major open tournament thinking it will be the spur I need and the impetus to finally put enough work in and hold everything together. Once again: no. But I’ll keep giving it a go. I just don’t know exactly where I’ll draw it from. The well is completely dry at the moment, unless I can change some other things in my life.
I’m not feeling too sorry for myself. It’s good to realise just what you have in the tank. If I don’t know why my arrows are landing on the next face, I do know what I can do about some other things. The tool that reveals. And I’m not ungrateful that I have the money and the ability to go and do these things in the first place. It’s supposed to be fun, sure. The bits when I wasn’t standing on the line certainly were.
So I’m friends with Oh Jin Hyek on Facebook now. Afterwards, I message him. He replies that he can’t make it due to “a sudden schedule.”
Yeah, well, big fella. You’ve gotta show to get the points. I’m going to chalk this one down as a win. 🙂
Thanks to everyone I shot with, chatted to, hung out and travelled with. You were great.