A glamorous affair in the Russian capital saw Lopez and Ellison rack up five titles each
The semi-official outdoor season closer of the World Cup Final has been held in all sorts of places. Last year it was held on a helipad in the sturdy but desperately unremarkable port town of Samsun in Turkey, on the shores of the Black Sea. That edition, it has to said, was somewhat of a comedown after the 2013 edition in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower with 2,500 Parisians doing Mexican waves around the vast arena.
The vagaries of who can and will be able to host being what they are, a wide variety of options are not always available. But this year, a long-mooted finals competition in Russia finally came off, and it turned out to be a coronation of the very best on the circuit.
A preamble event for the draw to decide the competition brackets saw the full athlete roster assembled just off Red Square in a ballroom at Moscow’s famous high-end department store GUM. With full production values, commentary and live video coverage, it set a new template for World Archery events, looking more a major football event than an archery tournament.
World Cup Finals are all about individuals, rather than teams, held here in a finals arena set up in the shadow of the stadium used for the Moscow 1980 Olympics. On the Friday, in the compound women’s event, it was down to which Sara Lopez turned up, and this year, she has been turning up like never before.
Without question the greatest woman ever to wield a compound bow, no one has been able to stay at her level consistently enough to push her out in matchplay. After Lopez brushed aside a lacklustre So Chaewon in the first round, the stage was set; in the end the final against the reigning world champion Natalia Avdeeva, on home turf on her birthday, was a walkover. Avdeeva never found her groove and finished a full ten points adrift; keeping one streak: no archer from the host nation has yet won gold at a World Cup Final.
In men’s compound, Mike Schloesser took his second title, after winning in Odense in 2016. Mikey, the world number two, faced the world number one Braden Gellenthien searching for his third title. It was a scrappy affair from the American, who spent most of the match rolling his eyes. After Braden had lost the match in his head, Mikey pulled away, reeling off confident tens. By the fifteenth arrow, he barely needed more than a hit to take the title, but Schloesser has become notorious for nerves when closing out matches, and this one was no exception. Shaking a little, he punched like Mike Tyson down on the trigger, but it found an eight – by this time, enough to do the job. In conversation with the press afterwards, he was refreshingly honest about the issues (shared by many elite compounders) that cause nerves on the biggest of stages.
In women’s recurve, Kang Chae Young bounced back from the immense disappointment of coming second at the World Championships to pull an impressively solid win out and take her first World Cup Final gong. You sensed it might not be the last. After winning two stages earlier in the year and currently ranked number one in the world, as well as topping the immensely more competitive trials back home, this most guileless of champions glided to victory. She is never as ruthless in matchplay as many of her peers, but two back to back 30s in the final was enough to see off the considerable threat of Chinese Taipei’s Tan Ya Ting, probably the most talented recurve archer of her generation to somehow never have managed to win a major title. Repeating a matchup from the final of the 2017 Universiade, with the same result, Ya Ting will have to wait just a little longer for her first big gong.
Finally, on Saturday, it was the turn of Brady Ellison – without doubt, the archer of the year – to take down his fifth world cup title in his seventh final. After beating, once again, a strong Sjef van den Berg in the semi he came up against Mauro Nespoli, the European Games champion and in solid, crushing form. But in the third set, Mauro seemed to blink; and Ellison strode away with the initiative. It was well-deserved. Kim Woojin, three times a winner here, was not a threat this time, and a fired-up van den Berg thrashed him for the bronze medal.
The recurve day of the World Cup final has been a superb showcase for the sport in recent years. If Ellison can maintain form like this for another year – needless to say, easier said than done – and the Koreans don’t quite pull things back together after a tricky year, an American might just be going to Tokyo as favourite for the Olympic title once again.
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