Meet the team: World Cup Final hosts Mexico
On top of the four spaces it receives, one in each competition category, as the host nation of the Archery World Cup Final, Mexico added an extra athlete in the compound women’s competition as both Linda Ochoa and Stephanie Sarai Salinas made the top eight in the World Cup ranking. Linda ranked third, Stephanie fourth.
Linda is one of Mexico’s best-known archers, as she’s been competing internationally for more than 10 years. Stephanie – an archer on the rise – won her first ever World Cup medal at the start of 2015 in Shanghai.
Joined by three host nation representatives – Toronto 2015 Champion Luis Alvarez, Alejandra Valencia and Mario Cardoso – the team carries Mexico’s hopes in the Zocalo, and at the 10th Archery World Cup Final.
In between practice, media activities and a competition with Mexican celebrities, we sat down with the group.
The chemistry between the archers was immediately evident. They’ve been shooting together for more than 10 years at archery events around the world, and it’s something, says 21 year-old compounder Cardoso, that has turned them into more of a family than just friends.
“We have been through everything together – good and bad,” says Mario. “Spending more than half of every year together has made us family. We support each other, we cheer each other on and we never get bored. There’s always something we find to enjoy.”
The Mexican athletes joke, and begin to jokingly bully each other, as soon as we start the interview.
Thankfully, the ever-eloquent Linda Ochoa – who spent much of the Thursday morning ahead of competition explaining the sport to press, along with archer-turned-organiser Juan Rene Serrano – is around to lend some order to proceedings!
“We feel excited and proud that the World Cup Final is happening in our country,” says Linda, smiling. “We are always looking for ways to promote archery and to make it more popular here in Mexico. This is just the best way to get people engaged with the sport.”
Saying he believes the competition is a privilege for them as athletes, Luis “El Abuelo” Alvarez thinks that shooting the Final on home soil is something they should enjoy – rather than forcing themselves to do things that are out of their limits, which might come so easily with the expectation of the home crowd.
“We should go out there and feel no pressure at all,” says El Abuelo, the grandfather, at just 24 years old! “Our friends will be there, they will be watching us arrow-by-arrow. That’s not pressure, that’s support.”
Pan Am Games Champion Luis, who received his nickname because of his serious looks, shoots the mixed team event in Mexico City with Alejandra Valencia.
Quiet and bit shy, Alejandra smiles, saying: “I’m not scared about shooting at home.”
“It’s more a feeling of excitement to know that there will be so many people watching us shooting against Korea, the best team in the world. This just pushes us to concentrate even more, to give our best and give joy to our people.”
In a country where football is the most popular sport by quite some margin, it is archery that will gather all the attention during this weekend, as the World Cup Final will be held in the Zócalo – one of Mexico’s most historical and iconic places.
“The Zócalo is the centre of our country. It’s where the ancestral civilisation of Tenochtitlan was build and where the call of independence was made. It’s where Mexico was born,” explains Stephanie Salinas. She emerged as a contender on the tour in 2015, picking up the first senior international podiums of her career on route to a World Cup Final birth.
While she’s talking, her teammates start to goad her, light-heartedly, of course.
Born in Tijuana, a city in the north of Baja California, close to the USA, the team joke that Stephanie cannot explain what it means to shoot in the Zócalo.
She manages to continue: “That flag, probably the biggest in our country, it is just amazing!”
Shooting in such a recognisable place, the Archery World Cup Final should bring a huge amount of exposure to the sport, say the Mexican archers.
“This Final is not big just for the Mexican team,” Stephanie explains. “It’s more for the new archery generation who will start to set the goals for the World Championships in 2017.”
World Archery’s international calendar is set to return to Mexico City again two years after this World Cup Final, when the World Archery Championships take place in the Mexican capital. The exact venue, though, is still under wraps. If there’s somewhere to beat the impressive Zócalo for grandeur, it will have to be simply phenomenal.
Chatting now, and quite happy to spill the beans on each other, the Mexican athletes start revealing some internal-team gossip. Most of it revolves around Ochoa.
“Linda,” says Stephanie, “really loves to sleep. The worst thing you can do is wake her up. She’s a monster if you do that!”
She’s also referred to as “AKA Anderson” by the rest of the team since her marriage to USA international archer Steve Anderson earlier in the summer. And what does she do with her spare time, living so far from her partner?
“Can I just say I’m a full-time archery,” Linda asks. “It sounds better than just a housewife!”
Aside from the jokes, it’s the shyest member of the team that hides the most interesting talents.
“Alejandra speaks Japanese,” reveals Linda. It is not a common language for a South American person to know. “She learned it on the internet by herself. She plays the violin and loves comics. Sometimes, she wakes up playing the piano.”