Archery in Estonia

For archery in Estonia, dedication to training pays off

Robin and Lisell Jaatma

Archery is a relatively small but growing sport in Estonia, the Baltic state that borders Latvia, Russia and the Gulf of Finland. The Estonian Archery Association (EAA) is the governing body for the sport in the country, and it is affiliated with World Archery.

Competitions have been held in Estonia since the early 20th century, but the sport only started to gain popularity in the 1990s after independence. Today, there are multiple archery clubs throughout the country, and the EAA organises various competitions and events for archers of all ages and skill levels.

It’s still a fairly small sport in a country where you can’t shoot outdoors all year round. The bigger sports in the country include basketball and cross-country skiing, and Estonian athletes have taken several medals on the track at the Olympics since independence. 

Much of the publicity for Estonian archery in recent years has centred around the Jaatma family and the compound dynasty they have forged. Lisell and her brother Robin Jaatma have both placed highly in tournaments around the world, and as a mixed team they have podiumed in several major events, including taking gold at the 2019 Summer Universiade.

Outdoor training in Estonia can often be a chilly business

Lisell, currently ranked world number four and still only 23, has brought home a string of international medals, most remarkably winning the Sud de France Tournament in Nimes three times in four years. Her first win in 2020 was actually her fourth appearance in Nimes. She shot a personal best of 588 in qualifying and took out names such as Sarah Prieels, Alexis Ruiz and Tanja Gellenthien en route to her first major title.

“Everything changed after that,” said Lisell. “I got my first big sponsorship deals and I was more determined than ever.” 

In 2022, outdoors, she also managed to collect four medals in two stages. In Antalya, she took individual bronze and compound women’s team bronze, and in Gwangju she won silver in both the compound women’s team and mixed team events, finishing fourth in the individual, too.

Estonian juniors training

Her younger brother Robin, for his part, is now ranked 10th in the world and has podiumed indoors and out individually, with a remarkable third-place finish at the World Championships in Yankton in 2021. 

“I like to compete with her,” he told World Archery last year. “Everything she can do, I want to do better.” 

There are other compound archers, such as Meeri-Marita Paas, who have placed high internationally. Meeri-Marita and Lisell both appeared on an Estonian women’s compound team calendar, a fundraising exercise in 2019 repeated in 2022. (You can follow them on Instagram for more.) 

In recent years, the popularity of other types of archery has increased.

Kadi Koort, who has represented Estonia at two World 3D tournaments in the past decade, is now a professional coach, training archers all over the country. “We have around 1,000 registered archers, with a pretty equal split between men and women, and adults and juniors,” she said. (Estonia has a population of 1.3 million people.) 

“Around 40% of those are shooting Olympic recurve, based on the reporting from the last indoor worlds, the rest split between compound, barebow/instinctive and longbow.

“We get into the news because of the success of our compound archers and the international medals in longbow. But national competitions are not covered in news, except for the IFAA [International Field Archery Association] championships,” she added. The IFAA World Championships were held in Estonia in 2022.

Koort recently coached a group of younger archers to the Nimes tournament to get international experience: “Nimes is a good competition to introduce the world-class level to young archers, you really can see the world’s best on the same shooting line and feel the competition vibe. That was the main goal, and we accomplished it: they now want to go to a higher level and to work for that in training.”  

Estonian archers have participated in several international competitions, with two veteran longbow women, Ylle Kell and Inge Sirkel-Suviste, placing in the fourth round at last year’s 3D Championships in Terni. 

Meeri-Marita Paas, who finished ninth in Vegas this year

When it comes to recurve and the Olympics, the most successful Estonian archer to date is Reena Pärnat, who competed at both the 2012 and 2020 Games.

Reena Pärnat

“We have three top ladies working to get to the Olympics next year: Reena Pärnat, Triinu Lilienthal and Bessi Kasak,” said Kadi. 

But if compound did manage to make it to the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028, it seems entirely possible that the Estonian delegation might be coming home with an extra medal – or two.

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