Paris 2024 and beyond: the future for the international sport
Tokyo gave us some new events and new technology, but now the Olympics is done, everyone in the archery world has one city on their minds: Paris. Bow caught up with World Archery secretary-general Tom Dielen to look at what has been delivered and what is on the horizon for the biggest event in the sport.
History was made as the mixed team event was shot for the first time on the first Saturday of the Games – the first archery event to award a medal. It has been part of many international competitions since 2012, and was originally intended to be included at Rio 2016 but a number of logistical and organisational issues prevented its inclusion.
Several other sports added a mixed team event in Tokyo too. It displays a very public sporting commitment to equality and diversity, without increasing the number of athletes competing at the Games (a key factor in getting new events accepted). And while Korea won the event in Tokyo, the Netherlands took silver and Mexico bronze, breaking the usual domination of the Asian powerhouses and making it clear that mixed teams definitely open the medal possibilities wider.
“We’ve seen that it has definitely increased the investment from some of our national federations in women competing in archery. We saw that there has been a lot of investment from member associations and from countries in women’s sport as a result of it,” said Dielen.
“We also have, as a result, fewer countries represented because there were more when there were two genders, which is good and bad at the same time. We have fewer countries (overall) but more countries with women. Also in terms of the excitement, it’s clear that the level of men and women is very close. It’s also an event where the interaction has to be really good between the two athletes, because when you shoot and you come back, you don’t really have a lot of time.”
One of the innovations most commented on by the international media was the use of heart-rate monitors to broadcast live biometric data during matches. Special cameras in the Yumenoshima Park arena allowed for biometric data to be measured remotely from cameras, without requiring the athletes to wear any monitoring devices. A pair of high-frame-rate cameras focuses on an athlete’s face, detecting tiny changes in shape and colour to determine how fast their heart is beating, and then this data is relayed to the TV production team.
The data appeared on screen in the live television feed but not in the arena in case it distracted the athletes. The athletes also had to give permission to share the heart-rate data; in the end, 60 of the 64 men and 62 of the 64 women said yes.
“We want to give the spectator watching on television the feeling of stress,” said Dielen. “When you watch live, there is this moment of preparation, you have complete quiet and you can feel the stress level to a certain extent. But watching on television, you see a target, you might think it’s easy, you can’t feel the stress of that athlete who has to shoot a 10 to get a gold medal. We want to give the athlete’s experience to the spectator.”
This innovation has been a long time coming; World Archery has been working on it since 2012. A prototype heartrate tracker worn directly by the athletes was used to measure heart rates during the World Cup Final in 2012 – also held in Tokyo.
It added colour to some fascinating battles. London 2012 Olympic Champion Oh Jin Hyek had one of the lowest heart rates of any archer to enter the arena through his first match in Tokyo, averaging around 85 beats per minute (BPM). But during his shoot-off arrow against India’s Atanu Das in the second round, which would ultimately eliminate Oh from the competition, it peaked at 143bpm. Similarly, it revealed the pressure Elena Osipova was feeling in her gold medal shootoff with An San on Friday.
The low heart rate of Kim Woojin in competition in Tokyo has apparently led to a new nickname of ‘Sleepy’.
Most athletes praised the new innovation, although some a little more drily than others. “To be honest, it’s good that they know I have a heartbeat, that I’m still alive,” said Steve Wijler of The Netherlands.
The sport of biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and precision rifle shooting, has already expressed an interest in using the technology.
Tracking, aiming…and arrows?
Dielen is keen to continue down the hi-tech road that gives more to the archery spectator. “For years, I’ve been trying to see where people are aiming, and also tracking the flight of the arrow. You have that in golf, we would love to have that in archery as well. I think it is also possible by visual recognition and using reference points; maybe with sensors on the bow combined with cameras we could find a solution. We’ve looked at systems from golf; although golf balls are all the same size, and are white, which makes it a little bit easier. Arrows are black and different sizes. But I think it’s possible. It’s whether we can do it in a way that’s affordable.”
“We now have the visual recognition system for scoring, which is cheaper and easier to transport than the laser system we were using, and the entry-level version can even be used at club level. It’s definitely a step forward for the sport. And I’m sure by Paris we will have an evolution of the heart-rate monitors, too.”
Several changes have been proposed for the upcoming World Archery Congress in Yankton in September, including shortening the current 70m ranking round to make competitions run quicker and at the same time changing the size of the outdoor target face. Another proposal, which seems likely to pass, seeks to change compound scoring by making the X ring score 11 points (although another mooted change, moving the compound outdoor distance from 50m to 60m, is no longer being considered at the moment). Bow will report back with full details as soon as any decisions are made.
Paris 2024: the venue
The archery venue in Paris has long been confirmed as the complex of museums and monuments known as Les Invalides, and in Tokyo it was also confirmed that the same venue will play host to the marathon finish after the conclusion of the archery competition. (The same combination of sports also took place at the Sambodromo at Rio 2016, and also at the Panathenaic Stadium at Athens in 2004. The Sambodromo was then ‘reset’ afterwards for the Paralympic archery competition.) Many of the technical delegates and staff who are expected to deliver the Paris event were in Tokyo to work and/or observe for the Paris event, which is just three years away.
Olympic archery, often held in a space away from the centre of cities or at a distance from other Olympic venues, will finally be very much in the heart of the host city. The venue layout will be closer to London and Rio than Tokyo, without a large stand at the rear of the arena.
“In Paris, we couldn’t be more central. It will almost be like a second Olympic park. You have the Pont d’Iéna for the triathlon finish, the Grand Palais for the fencing – so it will be like a central cluster,” says Dielen.
“Also, the opening ceremony will be close by, because they want to do it in the centre of town rather than at the Stade de France. More like the Buenos Aires approach.” The opening ceremony for the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games in 2018 was held in a public space next to the Obelisco monument in the city centre, and was free to attend.
It seems clear that Paris could be an enormous profile raiser for archery. We may even see it take its place, symbolically, as a major rather than a minor Olympic sport.