The French international Pierre Plihon opens up to Bow. Interview by Mimi Landström
“How did I spend lockdown? In my apartment. Luckily I was able to put a target at 2m in my living room. And I had my dog!”
Pierre Plihon, one of the most charismatic archers on the international circuit, seems to have an ability to put a brave face on pretty much anything.
Plihon first made the national recurve side in 2014, bursting onto the scene by winning European team gold and individual bronze. He was part of the team who won silver at the 2017 World Championships in Mexico. He also qualified for Rio 2016 along with Lucas Daniel and Jean-Charles Valladont.
This year he hit new heights, posting a 695 indoor qualification, making the top 16 at the Indoor World Series Finals and being once again named to the French national side – even if their opportunities to shoot have, needless to say, been mostly curtailed this summer. In February he was shooting “hot as embers”, in the words of his coach Olivier Grillat.
When the announcement came that Tokyo was postponed, “it was like a bomb in my whole body. I got really depressed.”
“The Olympics was the only things keeping my head out of the water during the lockdown, but the time fix always everything and my surrounding (friend, coaches and family) were a great help to keep the practice running. I would like to make a point of it, even if you stand alone on the shooting line, I like to see the big team I have to build my Olympic dream.”
It was particularly infuriating for the 31 year old from Nimes, who had “worked like hell” for the last four years after losing in the first round to Mete Gazoz at the Sambodromo.
“I believed in a medal. I saw myself armed to go and win one.” he told French newspaper Midi-Libre in March.
As well as his international career, Plihon is well-known as one of the organisers behind the Nîmes Archery Tournament, and has seen it grow through the years into one of the key stopping points on the archery calendar, eventually becoming part of the Indoor World Series. So far – touch wood – the tournament seems to be going ahead in its usual spot in January next year, although needless to say, nothing is set in stone right now, with the indoor calendar looking malleable at the very least through next year.
Lockdown has changed the way that most archers train around the world, giving new insight into how training can be adapted. Pierre explained what he has changed and adapted to ensure he can keep training towards Tokyo. “A corona-friendly tournament? Sure. We organize head-to-head cyber matches with my teammates from the national team. I also attend a cyber competition in Sweden. I like the format. You can gather 50 people max, so you organize a competition in your club if you want and the results are gathered with other clubs who want to organize something.”
How do you train? What tips and hints can you give us? “I believe in a strong technique to deliver the shot, no matter the situation. The whole work you need to do outside shooting is meant to build a stronger technique. The best tip I could give is build your technique according what the bow needs to work efficiently, and trust it no matter what.”
How have you adapted your training during Covid-19? “As I said, I was shooting in my living room, not the best and kind of boring when you are ready to compete, spending weeks shooting short distance is really not fun, but it is what it is.”
“Then as soon as I had the opportunity to travel to my girlfriend in Sweden, I took the car and drive 2500km to go in Sweden where the practice conditions were simply awesome. Essentially, I’m in recovery mode, not performance-oriented. A complicated recovery because the situation is new, we don’t know where we are going.”
The French international team has a long history at the top level and at the Olympics. France is actually third on the all-time archery medal list for the Olympics, with 25 medals in total, just behind the United States and Korea. At least one French archery athlete has attended every Games since 1984. So it was a deep shock that the French recurve teams finished the qualifying tournaments in 2019 without a single spot for the Games.
Even more frustrating, they came incredibly close. At the primary qualifier in Den Bosch, where the teams have to win a single match, the men’s team shot superbly against the top-ranked Chinese Taipei, with Plihon rock-solid. All but one of their 24 arrows goes in the yellow, but just a few too many were nines, against their on-fire Asian opponents. It went to a tiebreak, which France then managed to lose. The women’s team also left the Netherlands empty handed.
A few weeks later at the European Games in Minsk, the French men’s team opened with an impressive win to take recurve team gold in Minsk, where Plihon moved to the anchor role usually reserved for teammate Jean-Charles Valladont.
“It’s new for me, [anchoring] but it went well for me [in Minsk], and I’m in a good moment now, and I feel able to take charge and handle my emotions well enough to be there.” he said afterwards.
But it was only the individual and the mixed team events that could garner them Olympic places. Plihon, after qualifying second, had a disastrous match against hometown hero Pavel Dalidovich of Belarus on Monday, where he lost 6-4. Despite coming close again, France left Belarus again without a single Olympic spot.
How are the French team training to get the remaining spots for the Games? “[Coach] Nicolas Rifaut visited me in Sweden in July to have a training camp and keep following the practice. Even if the crisis is here, I think we have the great luck to have a strong group, so we keep pushing each other and challenging basically except the thrill of competition, the practice remains the same.”
It should be noted that France’s men won their last Olympic spots for Rio at the very last minute, at the final qualifying tournament; making Plihon partly responsible for Valladont’s silver medal in Rio. You would not put it past a repeat at the latest final qualifying tournament next year for Tokyo.
“In archery you shoot against you. It’s not really against another team. The first opponent is your own fear. It’s good to fight against it.”
“I will get up and I will be even better.”