Champion rower Guillaume Toucoullet powering towards Paralympic archery appearance
At 35 years of age, Guillaume Toucoullet is a newcomer in the world of para archery.
The Frenchman has been shooting his bow for less than four years but has already podiumed several times on the Para Archery European Cup circuit. He even finished second at the last series finals held in August 2019 in Wiesbaden, Germany – making for an impressive end to his debut international season.
“I think I’ve found such good results so fast because I listen to my coaches, I am determined and a bit of a perfectionist, maybe in excess,” says Guillaume.
“I’m constantly searching for satisfaction – both in feeling and technique. I assume that nothing is ever finished, that anything can happen. I never give up and stay focused, in my bubble until the end.”
Sport has always been a part of Guillaume’s life. He played Basque pelota from the age of six to 14 years and then moved on to rowing until 2010.
That was that year in which he had a motorcycle accident.
He endured several months of surgery and rehabilitation – but his left arm was paralysed. Nevertheless, just 12 months after the injury, he was back on a boat with a plan to resume competition in para rowing.
“The sport helped me bounce back and accept my impairment,” he says. “I entered the high-performance programme with my favourite discipline.”
Guillaume was named to the French para rowing team in 2013 and won the national championships in 2014 and 2015.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Guillaume discovered archery, somewhat by chance, and the sport quickly became a passion.
“I like archery because it’s a sport that requires a lot of concentration and precision. It’s very demanding in the accuracy of the technique but also in bow set-up and maintenance,” he says.
“What I like is above all the object, the bow itself and the way it reacts. Then the sensation of shooting, too, although it took me a little bit of time to appreciate that properly.”
The lack of physical activity and energy cost in archery compared to rowing was an obstacle at the beginning. Early on, he tried practising too hard – forcing things too much. Now spends that excess energy on other recreational sport instead.
Guillaume’s approach to archery is more serene. He listens, always learning.
“The two sports are very different. Rowing was team-based, archery is very individual,” he says. “Even if I shoot alone, I need to retain this team spirit with the French squad. But, above all, I need to create that team with my coach.”
Without the use of his left arm, Guillaume draws back the string with his mouth. He is not alone – other para archers do the same – but there is not the same breadth of expertise on this style of shooting as with traditional archery technique.
He’s developed his own style, along with his coach. They work together, analysing feeling and results to try to make improvements.
Just a year after Guillaume started shooting a bow, he became French champion indoor and out, and set a new national record for the 18-metre round at 583 points.
“And now here I am, hooked on archery, with the desire to learn and get that buzz on the shooting line,” he says.
His international debut at the first stage of the Para Archery European Cup in May 2019 in Italy saw Guillaume take individual silver and team gold. He added two more medals, individual bronze and team silver, at the second leg in the Czech Republic.
The circuit finals in August brought a promising second place.
Guillaume also competed at the 2019 World Archery Para Championships and climb up to 20th in the world ranking list for the recurve men’s open category.
“These good results have strengthened my resolve,” he says. “My choice was correct. And now I have new goals.”
Tokyo 2020 is a target. It’s now less than six months away. But perhaps even more exciting is that in just four years’ time, the Paralympic Games are headed to France for Paris 2024.
Will Guillaume be there?
Images courtesy of German Shooting and Archery Federation and Guillaume Toucoullet.