The fun wing: How it felt to shoot the World Archery Masters Championships
I competed at the inaugural World Archery Masters Championships in Lausanne, shooting the outdoor event with my recurve.
I now just scrape into the 40+ category; I was and wasn’t happy about turning 40, but it’s both brilliant and novel being one of the youngest people at the tournament, and with precisely none of us fighting for the championships that many of the 50+ competitors have their heads down for.
As fellow competitor Amy Skogen (who goes on to take bronze in the field competition) says to me: “It’s like the grown-ups have let us sit at the dining table, rather than putting us at the table in the kitchen.”
This is definitely the fun wing of things. It’s just the one event for me, but almost everyone else is tripling up and shooting outdoor, indoor and field.
Despite the fact that I spend a lot of my time now writing about archery for a living, I don’t actually shoot a great deal. Just a week before arriving, I was thinking about leaving the bow at home – when I wasn’t thinking about throwing it into a hedge.
Almost nothing seemed to be working technique-wise, there was a parade of minor technical and logistical problems and, like many other people that made the trip, jobs and families and life now take priority over training and the discipline required to get really good at archery.
I’ve long known there are no hiding places in the sport, and you can’t bluff your way through. That’s actually one of the things I like about it.
Archery reflects you and your own state of mind; plus you get out what you put in, and so on. But when you simply don’t have the time or energy to throw anything else in the pot, and what you are searching for seems perpetually just outside your grasp, it can be the most deeply, painfully frustrating sport of all.
So I arrived with my expectations on the floor. I was hoping just to put all the arrows on the face, and that was it.
In the end, this probably helped a great deal; I wasn’t nervous at all, because I didn’t have anything to prove to myself. Official practice on Wednesday helped a little, once I got the sightmark nailed on.
In almost every previous competition I have had a score in mind. Not this time. I just focused entirely on trying to get six arrows off each end as cleanly and as simply as possible.
So my elbow doesn’t want to turn? Hey. Never mind, eh?
I also made a promise to myself that I would not look at anybody else’s score until the ranking round was over. Incredibly, I almost managed it.
Thursday dawned; a beautiful day with almost no wind, but blazing sunshine. The recurve men’s 40+ division was one of the smallest recurve divisions at the competition, with just 15 entrants, between us representing Great Britain (four), Japan (three), France (two), Estonia, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, the USA and Switzerland. (There are 16 on the sheet, but one doesn’t show.)
Hands get shaken; fists get bumped. I even skip one of the two warm up ends, hoping to save energy, and the judge comes over, baffled, thinking they’re missing a starter. Whoops.
Qualification goes as well as can be expected; perhaps better.
Three and a half hours pass in a flash. The arrows go in, mostly, and more are in the group that I am expecting. I focus just on trying to keep my head still and keep pulling. My release is still a shambles and the string picture is more like a flick book but the arrows get away and all but two of the 72 score points.
I finish with halves of 233 and 239 for a total of 472, some way below a years-ago personal best but hey, I actually stuck to my gameplan. That’s a first. And it even got better in the second half.
My target mates are awesome. I go for lunch in a better mood. Hey, that wasn’t so bad.
There is no cut in the men’s or women’s competitions and we are guaranteed a match each, which takes a long while, with a queue of divisions in front of us. So long, in fact, that two people with flights to catch and jobs to go to have to withdraw.
The camaraderie develops. We’re mostly in the same boat. Everyone wants to be here. Everyone wants to be a part of it. Food gets shared. Travellers tales are swapped.
The sun is coming down by the time my match rolls around. As the 12th seed, I am up against the fifth seed, Ignacio Gomez-Sancha, of Spain, an absolutely stand-up guy and a far better archer than me. His daughter is here on the line with a camera, taking excellent photographs of us all.
Ignacio edges the first two sets, 22 to my 20, and then 21 to another 20; I am 4-0 down. I put the next three in thinking they are going to be the last three arrows of the week, and I’m feeling absolutely okay about that.
I think I even take my bracer off.
But by this time, I have a coach, Kadi Koort of Estonia. I didn’t ask for a coach. She appointed herself. No choice in the matter.
“Hey! You got that,” she says.
We have both put in a 27, and split the points. I shot 27. Go me. I have something on the board. Daniel Sims, a fellow Brit on the target next to me, says, “at least you didn’t go home empty handed”.
The bracer goes back on, and I get the next three away, and it’s feeling good. Cleanish. Confident, even. Ignacio still has one in the pump on the line, but he seems to have wobbled.
“It’s okay,” Kadi shouts. “You got the set, even if he puts in a 10!” I have shot 10, eight, eight for a 26. It’s 5-3. We score and go back out.
“Nice,” Kadi calls. “Nice.”
Another 26. I’ve staged a comeback. It’s 5-5 and a shoot-off. Last week, I would have given you more chance of aliens landing.
We are alone on the line. One arrow it is. We both get them away simultaneously. I turn and look at Kadi. She’s doing that thing with her teeth. It’s over – but only by a centimetre or so.
I’ve lost my first shoot-off. And I feel really good about it. We even get clapped off the line. Glad to give everyone some entertainment.
Then I’m straight back out to watch everyone else’s matches. Because we’ve moved from competitors to friends, and I want to see how my friends are doing.
John Stanley is a blogger and editor of the archery magazine Bow International. The first World Archery Masters Championships take place on 14-18 August 2018 in Lausanne, Switzerland.