Best Olympic Archers of All-Time: #8 Michele Frangilli

19 May 2016
World Archery’s list of the best Olympic archery athletes in history from Paris 1900 to London 2012.

Some pictures courtesy Yoshi Komatsu.

Each week in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, we’ll be revealing another athlete on our list of the top 15 Olympic archers of all time. This week, it’s…

#8: MICHELE FRANGILLI

NOC: Italy 

Born: 1 May 1976, Gallarate, Italy 

Olympic caps: 4 (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, London 2012)

The Medals

Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games
Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
London 2012 Olympic Games

The quote

“My life has been exclusively based on this very beautiful sport.” – Michele Frangilli

The Reason

In 2016, Michele Frangilli continues a remarkable career in elite archery, as he prepares for his fifth Olympics. (It’s not fully-confirmed yet, but all signs point towards the 40-year-old participating in Rio.)

He has taken a staggering array of titles from a competitive career starting in 1986, when he was just 10 years of age, but it took him 26 years to finally secure the medal he wanted most of all. 

From the mid-1990s, Michele had locked in an extraordinary unorthodox shooting style which he employs to this day. Developed by Michele and his father and coach Vittorio, it is referred to as the ‘heretic technique’, and is designed to give total control over the shooting sequence.

“My technique is difficult to learn and practice, hence it is not imitated much and is not considered ‘normal’ by archery specialists,” said Michele. “But what counts is to reproduce an identical sequence every time and to score 10s!”

Frangilli’s first Olympics was in 1996 at the age of 20, where he topped the ranking round with 684 – a new Olympic record.

He had a memorable quarterfinal match with eventual-champion Justin Huish, where the match went to a second shoot-off before Huish managed to edge past. As part of the Italian men’s team, Frangilli took his first Olympic medal when Italy beat Australia for the bronze – an Australian team featuring later Sydney champion Simon Fairweather

Frangilli was back in action for Italy at Sydney 2000. He finished ninth in the individual competition, but the men’s team went one better and made the final, taking a silver medal against Korea, 255-247.

By 2001, Frangilli was ranked number one in the world, and started justifying this ranking in no uncertain terms.

He took the world indoor championships that year, setting two indoor world records that stand to this day. He went on to become European champion and world field champion in 2002, and finally individual World Archery Champion in New York in 2003.

He won the world field title three times in all, in a discipline that remains very close to his heart: “Field shooting is the university of archery. I have practiced field shooting since I was 10 years old, and I always loved this discipline… Field shooting is the speciality that completes the capacity of controlling the shot.”

Expectations were high for the Athens Olympics in 2004, but Frangilli lost in the second round to eventual silver medallist Hiroshi Yamamoto, and the men’s team was pushed out by the USA in the quarterfinals. Frangilli had to watch as teammate Marco Galiazzo took individual gold.

In 2006, Frangilli joined the Italian air force, which allowed him to train full-time.

“Archery is my job. I am in the Air Force, but as a full-time archer,” he explained. “It’s my job to continue to win medals for Italy.”

Despite remaining at the top of the game, Frangilli did not compete in Beijing 2008, when the Italian men’s team again took a silver medal. 

But he was back for London 2012 with Galiazzo and Mauro Nespoli and, once again, the Italian men made it through to the gold medal match at Lords Cricket Ground – this time to face the USA, who had knocked out Korea in their semifinal.

The Italian team started well and built up a solid lead over the Americans, but some loose arrows in the later ends left them leading by just a single point with six arrows left. The USA finished their campaign with an eight, a 10 and a nine. Nespoli shot a 9, Galiazzo an 8 – and it was down to Frangilli.

He needed a 10 to win. A nine would force a shoot-off, and an eight would hand the gold to the USA. 

Frangilli stepped up. The clock was against him.

“I remember the whole sequence of that last shot as if it were today… I knew everything, I heard the noise in the audience. I was aware that I needed a 10 to win the gold medal… I was mostly focused on not making a mistake,” he said.

With just two seconds left on the clock, under astonishing pressure, Frangilli released – and the arrow landed in the 10. After 26 years, he finally had Olympic gold – and he had given the crowd one of the greatest moments in Olympic archery history.

These days, he is a little more relaxed about that final, career-defining arrow: “She went where she needed to go!”

In August, Frangilli will likely compete at his fifth Olympic games, and is still ambitious.

“In my cupboard I’m still missing a gold medal at the European indoor championship and an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games – after these I could finally say I’ve won everything at least once! I’ll be 40 years old and it’s very difficult, but I carry on trying,” he said.

For someone who has been driven to achieve so much, Michele is surprisingly uncertain of what comes next, after his competitive career as an archer is finally over.

“I’m not sure if I’ll coach, I’ve got the certificate, but I’m not yet sure that I will do that when I finally retire.”

The 40-year-old still has plenty to give before that choice comes, however:

“In London we thought that we could won at least one match of the team competition, and then we won gold. And in the individual, the competition is always open. How confident am I for Rio? Well, for warding off ill-luck, on a scale of one to 10, I’d have to say one!”

Thanks to Vittorio Frangilli and Francesco Marcatto.