Australia’s para archers gaining traction towards Tokyo

12 September 2017
Beijing (CHN)
Most aspiring para athletes in Australia gravitate towards wheelchair basketball, but the profile of para archery is on the rise.

Five Australian para athletes competed at the World Archery Para Championships in Donaueschingen, Germany in 2015, travelling without a coach, after not shooting at a much geographically closer event in Bangkok in 2013.

“We were happy to be there and happy to be a part of the archery community,” said recurve archer Marek Steiner.

Now, the goal has changed.

Jonathon Milne won Australia its first Paralympic archery medal in 32 years at Rio 2016 Games when he took bronze in the compound men’s open event.

“There has been an increase in interest since Jonathon won the medal,” coach Ricci Cheah said. “He has really lifted para archery up in Australia.”

“We’re more results focused this time around,” Steiner added, saying that team was focused on developing a full competitive squad in time for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.

The addition of a coach has already paid dividends. 

“There has definitely been a gap in para archery in Australia and I am here to help fill that gap. I am here to help them perform to their full potential,” said Cheah.

Steiner began shooting as an escape, especially after his long hours as a doctor.

“The world is really crazy right now, with so much happening every day. With archery you’re able to get away from it all for a few hours. It’s only man, bow and arrow,” he explained.

After beginning to compete, Steiner saw potential in the sport and began recruiting everyone he knew.

Kevin Faulkner, who was also in Donaueschingen, played wheelchair basketball in the Australian league for 15 years before deciding to switch to recurve archery. He saw a basketball friend win a gold medal in sailing at the Paralympics in London – and was inspired.

Now able to combine sport with his job, it’s his mission to introduce people to the opportunities in para sport.

He works as a sports development officer and has, in time away from the archery field, developed a para version of Australian rules football for athletes in wheelchairs.

“People that have had accidents need more opportunities to do something,” Faulkner said. “In archery, or in other sports, they need to know there are options out there.”

Steiner, too, as well as being an athlete, is a national classifier in Australia.

“My favourite part is being an athlete but I enjoy classification because it gets other people into archery,” Steiner said.

“It helps people find something they are passionate about and really develop themselves. It’s amazing to see people grow and develop athletically and personally.”

With such passionate individuals both competing and working towards a brighter future for para archery, this Australian squad is on track to establishing themselves as one of the teams to watch in the lead up to Tokyo 2020.

The 2017 World Archery Para Championships run 12-17 September in Beijing, China.