The spectacular rise of Turkish archery
The winners of the World Archery Athlete of the Year awards for 2018, voted for by an audience of their peers, were announced during the 2019 Indoor World Series Finals in February.
Turkey’s Mete Gazoz and Yasemin Anagoz, aged just 19 and 20 respectively, were named recurve man and woman of the year, and winning by a stride, above 2016’s Olympic medallists and archers far more decorated than them. Their astonishing achievement had been recognised.
Yasemin Anagoz had an incredible year which saw her crowned European champion in Legnica by beating former world champion Maja Jager; she anchored the Turkish recurve team to the ladies title too. This was on top of three World Cup mixed team medals with Mete Gazoz around the circuit.
Even so, it’s fair to say no-one expected the incredible run she made at the Samsun World Cup Final in 2018: beating, to deafening applause, the Olympic champion Chang Hyejin and multiple World Cup finalist Deepika Kumari – and while showing remarkable consistency and composure on the big stage, eventually taking silver.
Turkey has long been a base for World Archery events. The stage in Antalya is the most consistent event on the circuit, and Turkish Airlines were a long term sponsor until a couple of years ago.
The Turkish city of Samsun was definitely an appropriate place to hold the competition, after a year in which Turkish archery finally fully stepped up to the world elite level.
The country also has a long history with archery, most famously during the Ottoman Empire. “The arrow has left the bow” is a popular Turkish expression referring to the point of no return; perhaps closest to the expression ‘The die is cast’. As with many countries, a history that turned on the bow and arrow means that archery retains a powerful symbolism.
But the recent rise of the national side is not by accident – they have put serious investment in their top level athletes, to the point where Gazoz and Anagoz now live for free in a five-star hotel in Antalya, as long as they go and and practice all day, every day, and win for their country – a side of the bargain that, in 2018, they have most definitely held up.
National team coach Goktug Ergin was clear about the reason for the results. “The winning didn’t start this year. It started way back in 2013, and after five years, finally we find some results.
“We knew last year things were going well, and finally this year we took the medals to prove it. We started in 2013 when Mete and Yasemin were only 14. Before that we just had training camps for a few days before big competitions.
“We changed to a more residential system, where we have two 14-day training camps a month, with four days break between each one for the archers.”
Alongside the training has been a wider focus not only technique, but on core training and physical conditioning too. “Previously in Turkey the common idea was shooting just 200 arrows per day. Now we are shooting 650 or 700 per day.”
“We try and bring good teams to Turkey to train with our archers, and try to sync up international training camps to give our archers maximum experience before major competitions. This makes a big difference.”
Anagoz added: “Ten hours every day: eight hours shooting and two hours in the gym. It can be long and boring, but if there is a reason why we are winning, it’s that.”
Ultimately this is a story of investment – of both money and trust. “We are lucky that the government support us and give us the money to fund this programme. In the start it was difficult, we had to make a lot of presentations to make them believe it could happen.
We were also lucky in 2016 to get the two quota places for Rio with two really inexperienced archers. Since then, they’ve started to really believe us and we’ve had a lot more money for the programme. And it’s made a big difference.
Without money we couldn’t get these results. And we have two cadet archers in the Youth Olympic Games, the male archer is particularly good and is scoring in the 660s. He’s only 14, but he is growing like Mete now. The most important thing is that we have three cadet men and three cadet women for the future.”
There is no doubt about the goal ahead either. As federation head Abdullah Topaloglu said last year: “We believe that Turkey will win its first archery Olympic medal in Tokyo.”