Vegas Shootdowns: The view from backstage
You can’t see the horses.
Just a few yards from an arena in which a bunch of pros are competing for the richest prize in archery, there’s a few chestnut-coloured guys munching hay.
The TV at The Vegas Shoot is handled by a team hidden away in a space on the left-hand side of the arena and watched over by this handful of beautiful thoroughbred horses. There’s usually a few stabled here, in one of the major equestrian event centres of the USA, and the South Point Hotel and Casino apparently has room for up to 2000.
That’s a lot of hay.
The Vegas Shoot championship showdown is the culmination of the event and a year’s worth of prep by the NFAA, a small World Archery team, and many more professionals and volunteers. The audience start grabbing the best seats a few hours beforehand, and the noise level ratchets up with the women’s show, won by Alexis Ruiz of Arizona.
In the darkness at the rear of the archery arena, the eight men who shot clean – a perfect 300, each of the three days – line up along with the ‘lucky dog’, one of the many more who shot 899 and came through an incredible shoot-off to grab the last place available.
There’s a lot of tension on faces, a lot of fear. Over the three days to get here, you can concentrate and pretend that you’re practicing. Follow your process. It’s harder to prepare for this.
This year, the lucky dog is Christopher Perkins of Canada, who manages to look more determined, and less nervous, than the eight men in front of him. They’re introduced one by one, and take their spots.
After just one end that sees Federico Pagnoni take an early bath, the competition switches from ‘Vegas scoring’ – with the big 10 counting as 10 points, to championship (or World Archery) scoring, where only the inner X ring will do.
Three arrows, and it must be 30 points; incredibly tough to do under pressure.
The next end sees six of the remaining eight men fall, leaving just Bob Eyler and the lucky dog Chris Perkins. But Perkins has an extra challenge – he cannot place, he can only win or lose. It’s a rough rule, that reinforces what the Vegas championship is all about – absolute perfection. If you’re gonna play with the big boys, you’d better stand up to them.
After a third-place shoot-off that sees Kris Schaff edge out Paul Tedford, Perkins and Eyler line up again. Both drill the X-ring on their first, but Perkins’s third shot drifts low – way low, by Vegas standards.
There’s a collective sigh in the room. The audience knows the game is up as long as Eyler can deliver the final X, and he does. In a little over five ends of shooting, we have a winner. Bob Eyler raises his hands. It’s done. He takes the $52,000 first prize.
Chris Perkins has to leave with nothing. It seems harsh. It is.
That’s how it works here. You don’t see the effort that has gone into the production. The Vegas Shoot has an in-built drama, a pressure cooker tension that is helped along by the structure of the shoot, with the constant pauses to change faces, and the TV, the lights and the sound and the commentary and so on.
Compared to many archery finals, it’s pure theatre, of course. This is a show town, and the increasing popularity of the shoot as a broadcast is because it delivers drama and surprise at every turn. The championship shootdown has a magic all of its own.
The fourth stage and final of the 2017/2018 Indoor Archery World Cup season takes place in Las Vegas, USA on 9-10 February; The Vegas Shoot concludes on 11 February.