Best of 2016: The Olympic performances of Rio 2016
It’s every archers dream to climb the Olympic podium. In Rio, new champions were crowned – but, whether taking gold or not, many of the 128-strong field excelled. Past expectations, past pedigree, the best performances of Rio 2016 weren’t decided purely on medals.
1. LISA UNRUH
The German men’s and women’s recurve teams, despite consistent strong performances across the last two years and a Hyundai Archery World Cup stage win for the women at Medellin 2014, had failed to gain team places at the World Archery Championships in Copenhagen (the main qualifier for the Games) or at the last-chance tournament in Antalya, where the women were top seeds.
They were some of the highest ranked archers to miss out on a full team quota.
So the noticeably smaller delegation of Lisa Unruh and Florian Floto headed to Rio with – perhaps – slightly lower expectations. Unruh had plenty of form but was better known as an indoor specialist, arriving as reigning indoor (and field) World Archery Champion.
When she calmly, methodically worked her way through the field and dispatched one of the favourites, Tan Ya-Ting in a shoot-off, then giant-killer Alejandra Valencia in the semifinals, to setup a final with Chang Hye Jin, heads turned.
“The match against Tan Ya-Ting was the toughest match during the Games,” she admitted. “But after her shoot-off arrow, I knew that I was going to win, because I knew where I had to aim and that I could do a really strong shot, and so it was.”
It was one of the most solid and composed displays of archery that week, in a women’s field under incredible pressure.
“My strongest memory is that moment when I reached the gold final match. I was so full of happiness. And of course the moment when I stood on the podium. This was the first medal ceremony I enjoyed.”
“I didn’t lose the gold medal, I won the silver medal,” said Lisa. “I really enjoyed the honour of shooting the final against Chang. It was great!”
Unruh had the honour of collecting the first individual Olympic medal for a German archer – and nearly 7.5 million tuned in from Germany to watch her onTV, something she was noticeably happier about: “More people are interested on our sport.”
“Now, I'd like to go to Tokyo with two German teams, that’s a big wish. I'm a double world champion and I would like to win the Olympic world title outdoors, too.”
It was difficult to be surprised at Korea’s women taking their eighth team Olympic gold in a row – collectively, they remain dominant and proved it convincingly all year.
But very few would have predicted Chang Hye Jin taking the individual title, particularly above her teammates.
Hye Jin arrived in Rio as the 2015 Asian Champion but with just a single individual Hyundai Archery World Cup stage win to her name, back in 2014 in Antalya. Ki Bo Bae was looking strong, going for the almost mythical defence of an individual Olympic title, and world number one Choi Misun had been in peak form all year, dominating the Olympic trials and convincingly the number one seed in the Sambodromo, after having won six gold medals out of six events she’d entered (individual, team and mixed team) on the international circuit prior to the Games.
In the individual competition, Hye Jin seemed to grow in confidence with every shot and every opponent.
Qualifying second put her on a semifinal collision course with Ki Bo Bae, whose shot seemed to fall apart under the crushing pressure. In contrast, Hye Jin recovered from a mistake in the first end and never looked back, first passing the London 2012 gold medallist and then dispatching Unruh in the final with crisp, perfectly-timed shots and not even a flicker of doubt across her face.
It was a fairytale ending after the disappointment of failing to make the London 2012 team – and Chang said that she is not finished yet, announcing her intentions to make the squad for Tokyo.
Could she be the one to finally defend an Olympic individual gold? Stranger things have happened.
3. JC Valladont
His individual silver medal in Rio was a fantastic display of pressure shooting under difficult conditions. The Frenchman had proven his dangerman status in the preceding 12 months, taking the Wroclaw Hyundai Archery World Cup stage title in 2015 and emphatically taking the European title in Nottingham in 2016, in an event where his face looked out from the posters all around town.
In Rio, he beat the other top European archer, Sjef van den Berg, in the semifinal for the honour of taking on Ku Bonchan, who had just a little more than him in the gold medal match. But only a little; Valladont put in two 29s in the third and fourth sets that had us all wondering if he could achieve the unthinkable.
Australia’s men’s team: Punched a little above their weight in the Sambodromo, qualifying with an Oceania record to seed them nicely in fourth for the team event, gaining a bye and beating a patchy France. They then shot very strongly for two sets against Korea – but no-one was beating Korea that day. Finally they had plenty in the tank against China to take the bronze, finishing with a 59 and taking Australia’s first medal of the Games.
A great collective peak performance.
Ega Agatha Riau: Indonesia’s finest did the unthinkable on the Tuesday to knock out the new world record holder Kim Woojin with a gutsy display. He didn’t have enough against Mauro Nespoli to continue the run, but the Shanghai 2015 Hyundai Archery World Cup stage bronze medallist clearly has more left.
Ane Marcelle Dos Santos: The only home archer to make the quarterfinals, no-one got louder roars in the Sambodromo all week. The best performing Brazilian handled it all like a rock star, with equanimity and style. Hopefully we’ll see her back on the international circuit.
Korea: Not an honourable mention. More of a statement of respect. No article about incredible performances at the Olympics can go by without mentioning the historic four-gold performance of team Korea, a first-ever at the Games.
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