Medellin: World Cup 2019

Colombia doesn’t do normal weather. Close to the equator and the Andes mountains, it has two summer seasons and two rainy seasons. Medellin in April, the ‘City Of Eternal Spring‘, in the mountain highlands on the edge of the Andes, is very much in rainy season. This edition was held in a warm damp drizzle familiar to many European archers, albeit with lightning occasionally flickering just a few miles from the field .

Medellin is one of the four stages of the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit. Colombia’s second largest city was part of the circuit from 2013-2016, but returned this year as the Americas leg after the third edition in Salt Lake City was removed from the schedule. Colombia is an expensive destination to get to from Asia and Europe, and in a year with a busy international schedule, several major archery nations sat it out.

It’s fair to say Medellin is better known throughout the world for reasons other than archery, and at one point in the 1980s was described as ‘the most dangerous city in the world’. However, the worst of its days are behind it and it is now regarded as one of the most progressive and modern cities in South America.

World Cup events in years with a major title at stake have the slight feel of a warm-up event. 2019 sees the the first three stages – Medellin, Shanghai and Antalya – played almost back-to-back.

The qualification and knockout phase was uneventful, with most of the seeds making it through to the business end of things. It was noteworthy for a resurgent Chinese women’s recurve delegation qualifying in second place with two new faces on the circuit. (China’s recurve teams renew themselves frequently, if not always effectively).

Sara Lopez (Colombia)

But the real action was on finals day. After some less than scintillating team matches, compound Saturday saw the biggest fish of all, Sara Lopez, still only 24, trying to take a tenth title on home soil. Lopez on point is without question the greatest women’s compound shooter, probably of all time. If she turns up – literally and figuratively – it is up to a handful of her peers to try and hang on for dear life. However, she remains without a World Championship title, so far – a glaring omission on an otherwise crushingly dominant CV.

After taking gold with her team, she had little trouble reaching the individual final, which, like all the best compound matches, was as much a psychological battle of wits and focus as of sheer skill and technique. In good conditions, left-hander Jody Vermeulen of the Netherlands dropped weaker shots in the first couple of ends. Lopez streaked away in top gear; three points ahead after three ends. The wind started to move a little, and the Colombian dropped two points in the fourth, just as Vermeulen, with recurve number one Steve Wijler in the coach’s box, found another gear.

Lopez has a certain quality of utter self-belief when shooting at her best. This was fully in play until the second arrow of the final end, when a flicker of doubt finally ran across her face. It was enough to send the arrow well into the nine ring, and Vermeulen went clean to set up the shootoff.

The wind picked up. Lopez shot wide on the right into the middle of the nine ring and turned around, disgusted with herself. Vermeulen drew – and hesitated. The bow swung a little in the wind. The arrow slammed almost into the same spot in the nine, but a couple of millimetres further out. Lopez had her tenth World Cup title. As is usual in archery, all opportunities must be taken, without a second thought. Ideally, without any thoughts at all.

The men’s title saw a familiar couple of names duke it out; Braden Gellenthien and Mike Schloesser, the latter having just been named a Knight of the Order Orange-Nassau in his native Netherlands.

Mike Schloesser

Gellenthien hasn’t won a World Cup stage since 2013, and will have to wait a bit longer. This was a one-sided affair, with the American all over the shop and Mike shooting clean until the last, painful arrow. Mike has had enormous success despite terrible troubles with nerves, and his last arrow – like several title-winning arrows previously – was a shaky, juddery affair, with his entire draw arm twitching. But he was well ahead, and a bad nine was enough.

Kim Woojin and Kang Chae Young

On recurve Sunday, a routine set of team matches saw Korea take their usual position. However, they were run closer than normal, especially in the intriguing mixed team match which saw last issue’s Bow International cover star Casey Kaufhold take the stage with Brady Ellison, with the pair of them up against the formidable duo of Kang Chae Young and Kim Woojin.

The Americans ran the Koreans close enough to force a shootoff, with the starrier pair faltering in the wind, and the USA team thriving in the chaos. In the end, normal order was restored , but it was a fine debut for Kaufhold on the big stage, who delivered an emphatic ten in the tiebreaker that looked like a statement of intent.

Sjef van den Berg

The individual mens saw an undercard match for the bronze of high-end quality. Kim Woojin, having sent down a couple of wobbly arrows in the team ends was run close by Sjef van den Berg, who appeared to be back to something like his best. It was overshadowed by an extraordinary finals performance from Brady Ellison, who ran out at full speed against the young Korean wunderkind Lee Woo Seok. He never looked back, taking full control of a match and dominating proceedings to make, astonishingly, his tenth World Cup final.

On the women’s side, Kang Chae Young had no trouble crushing the hopes of young French rising star Melanie Gaubil. Chae Young didn’t post a single end of less than 27 all week, and posted 29, 28 and 28 with little reply to cruise to a triple haul of gold from the weekend.

With an in-form Ellison and Lopez qualifying automatically by right, both will be looking for a record sixth title at the final in September. Otherwise, it was a familiar story, with the Koreans still on top, but hanging in there by their nails. You sensed that the rest of the recurve world has caught up, at least in terms of raw skill, if never in strength of depth. For the Korean team, holding on to the big titles they see as rightfully theirs may not be easy forever.

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