Most archery fans are familiar with Antalya, the pleasantly relaxed beach resort on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. You may be familiar with the fact that it’s an eternal fixture on the World Cup circuit, having hosted every single stage since the inception of the competition, but it’s become very much part of the fabric of international archery too. The excellent weather, and the wide range of accommodation nearby the Turkish archery federation’s base camp next to the main football station means that it has become a training camp base for many other teams and squads during the rest of the year as well.
As a single competition, it was difficult to assess, because this edition was basically an ante-room for the imminent World Championships, with many archers almost admitting as such to the assembled media. This year is not just any World Championships, but the one immediately before an Olympic Games, which includes within its structure the primary opportunities for qualifying a three-man or three-woman team for Tokyo. Entire sporting careers for both archers and coaches rest on a single match. So the team rounds here, being the last under-fire practice session before the Worlds, had a particular frisson. You sensed the tension ratcheting up – and saw a few tears afterwards, too.
Korea, the biggest fish of all, had decided to skip it, which left a handful of other nations doggedly fighting for the World Cup scraps. The mighty Chinese Taipei’s women’s recurve team cruised to a gold medal in the team event, but you knew – as did they – that the real test will up ahead in Den Bosch, and probably against the ladies in white. (Taipei also have to exorcise the memory of the Copenhagen world championships where they disastrously failed to get a team place for Rio 2016).
Once again, the finals field had to be moved to a different location on Konyaalti Beach due to renovation, as the increasingly popular beach resort gradually moves upmarket. However, this year saw a sold-out crowd pack the stands on both days, which the World Cup certainly doesn’t always see. This year was the last official outing for the stage in Antalya, after 13 editions. Next year will see the same field host the European Championships, although as of this writing it seems likely that World Archery, still led by Turkish president Dr. Erdener, will be returning Antalya to the circuit in 2021.
The qualification and knockout phases didn’t see too many surprises; but when the archery circus finally moved to the beach on Saturday morning, the competition finally threw up some exciting, tension-filled matches. However good the TV coverage, 6-0 defeats don’t fire the imagination.
This year, it was more often than not the bronze matches that really caught the attention; a testy women’s recurve match between Spain and Russia was one of the highlights of the weekend, and saw a superb performance from Elena Osipova, the younger Russian women’s recurve who seems to be coming through as the top ranked archer on her team. In a solid meet for the large Russian contingent, she anchored her team on to two well-deserved medals, with something of the talismanic gravitas of Ksenia Perova about her.
Mete Gazoz, the Turkish wunderkind and still only 19, qualified in first place and took two recurve medals for the host nation – both bronze, but with strong performances.
In the compound division, James Lutz of the USA took gold with a superb 150-point match in the finals arena, in his debut international performance. There have been a few assured debuts at the World Cup recently, but this one showed an icy focus that bodes well for the future.
But perhaps the best compound performance came from South Africa’s Danelle Wentzel. Three consecutive 147s in matchplay shot her into a final where despite obvious nerves she stayed focused and shot above her level against the USA’s Alexis Ruiz, who must have thought she was on course for yet another gold. Wentzel become the first South African archer to ever take gold at a stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup, although her coach Seppie Cilliers took silver at the World Cup final in Odense, one of several world-elite SA performances over the years.
Finally, Mike Schloesser of the Netherlands secured the Longines Prize for Precision with a perfect 150 in the arena – surprisingly, only in the bronze match.
But Brady Ellison, taking men’s individual recurve gold, was truly remarkable. As in Medellin, there was a sense of unstoppability – even against the very best in the world, such as Steve Wijler of the Netherlands, here, and Lee Woo Seok of Korea in Medellin. Before he went out for the gold medal match, he claimed to have shot eight thirties in a row on the practice range. On the blazing finals field, the result was crushing and inevitable.
Most archery fans will have seen Brady in form or even on fire at some point in the last decade, but this year he seems to have hit the kind of level of invincibility that saw him crush the World Cup from 2010-2012. If he can sustain that for the World Championships – or even to Tokyo next year – it might finally see him take the titles he has craved his entire career. He is also one of the archers (counted in single digits) that the Korean men fully respect, and even fear, to face.
Can he do it? We’ll find out soon enough.