Youth triumphs at the biggest show of all
The largest and longest-running indoor tournament in the world returned in 2022, after a tournament-in-name-only effort last year, postponed from its February slot to April.
From small beginnings in the 1960s, the competition that would become known as the Vegas Shoot grew very slowly indeed, pulling in a peak of 800 archers in 1979. There was then a long and gentle decline during the 1980s, when it was held at the Tropicana Hotel – during which time, the iconic three-spot target and the famous shootdown was developed.
It wasn’t until the National Field Archery Association took over in 2000 that entry numbers started to gradually rise again, and even then, it remained a niche event.
A move to the South Point Hotel and Casino, a few miles south of the main Strip, with cavernous halls large enough to hold equestrian events, finally allowed for serious growth. In 2014, 2,000 archers registered for the first time. The compound professional division was won by Mike Schloesser of the Netherlands, who became the first non-North American to win the main event.
By 2020, the final entries numbered 3,800, not including several thousands more coaches, parents, friends, vendors and general hangers-on. More than 300,000 arrows were scored, with archers running through 35,000 target faces over the weekend. The lure of a Vegas holiday helps; people might shoot one year and simply go to support their friends the next.
The Vegas Shoot became the celebratory festival of archery, where the important thing was to be there and have fun. A large trade show with 75 stalls is a part of the spectacle too, even if the complaints about the air in the casino – which still allows smoking – don’t seem like they will go away any time soon.
The World Archery indoor World Cup final is now a cornerstone of the competition and held on the Saturday night. The gymnastic archery entertainer Orissa Kelly performed on both Saturday and Sunday nights, shooting bows with her feet.
This year, the organisers merely said that more than 3,000 archers had registered to shoot, from all 50 states of the US and 43 foreign countries. The Vegas Shoot is divided into ‘professional’ championships – which, nevertheless, anyone is free to enter – and ‘flights’ divisions, for the amateurs. As usual, by far the biggest division was the compound flights, with 980 competitors compared with the 246 who signed up for the recurve flights.
The headline act is always the compound open professional championship, which culminates in a grand shootdown where those who miss have to leave the stage. This is open to men and women, although no women registered this year.
The only way in is to shoot clean over the three days of the tournament, 30 arrows every day, to score the magic 900 points that gives you a ticket to the grand final. There is a single place for a ‘lucky dog’ who scores 899 and survives another shootdown with everyone else that also shot 899. This year, the organisers also let in Julio Barillas of Guatemala, who was the only shooter in the flights division to finish clean.
This year 23 men made the grand shootdown, including well-known names such as Sergio Pagni, Jesse Broadwater, Mike Schloesser, the 2021 World Champion Nico Wiener, Stephan Hansen (the lucky dog) and the back-to-back champion in 2020 and 2021, Kyle Douglas, who was looking to make history with three in a row.
But at the final reckoning, after the archers moved to single arrow shooting trying to hit the ‘little x’ with the lights and cameras upon them, it didn’t take long for a winner to emerge. However, almost nobody expected it to be Bodie Turner, from Washington state – who had turned 15 the previous day. Turner was at his third Vegas Shoot and had shot 900 with an astonishing 87x to get there. He took home the grand prize of $50,000.
So a 15-year-old won Vegas. However, even that was eclipsed in the women’s tournament shootdown, where 14-year-old Liko Arreola, from Hawaii, won the grand prize for the second year running. She bested experienced pros Paige Pearce and Tanja Gellenthien in just one small-10 end of shooting, finishing the largest-ever perfect shootdown in the women’s event faster than anyone expected.
Prior to 2019, only three compound women had previously shot 900 rounds in the history of the event. The first was Mary Hamm in 2004, followed by Sarah Lance in 2014, and finally Tanja Gellenthien (then Jensen) in 2017. In 2019, So Chaewon of Korea and Sara Lopez of Colombia – both prominent names on the international circuit – shot clean.
In 2021, only Arreola shot the magic 900, but this year for the first time three women managed the mark: Arreola, Paige Pearce and Tanja Gellenthien – all previous champions.
Brady Ellison won the recurve event for the third year in a row, shooting 896, closely followed by Nicolas D’Amour with 891. Casey Kaufhold took the women’s title with 881.
Indoor world series finals
The big Saturday night event – with notoriously slimmer arrow requirements – is the indoor World Series finals, the World Archery. On the big stage in the main arena at the South Point, compounders Toja Ellison and Nicolas Girard, and recurvers Penny Healey and Felix Wieser were crowned the new indoor archery World Series Champions. It was a curtailed 18m series, starting in Nîmes only last month. In Vegas, the first two day’s scores counted towards the grand final with the last 16s on Saturday.
As with the main showdown on Sunday, youth made a big impression. Britain’s Penny Healey was the biggest surprise; the 16-year-old shot 582 to come through as the fourth seed, eventually facing the US’s world outdoor silver medallist Casey Kaufhold in the final. Kaufhold had ranked second with a 588, in the final, the top qualifier Lisa Barbelin had lost in the first round.
Healey dealt with the bright lights and a raucous Vegas crowd like a pro. With Bryony Pitman in the coaches’ box, three sets into the final, she’d posted two 29s and a 30 and was solidly in the lead at 5-1.
Kaufhold punched back in the fourth with a 29 – but a perfect 30 sealed the win for Healey, who burst into tears.
Having shot in the senior world championships at Yankton last year, deputising for an absent Sarah Bettles, Healey said: “I was so nervous [in the final] that I didn’t think I would get any points at all. This was my first gold medal match as a senior and it means so much. I don’t know how to explain it, I’m lost for words.”
In men’s recurve, Felix Wieser’s win was less of a surprise. He has been on devastating form recently, shooting a perfect match to beat Steve Wijler in the final in Nîmes. Seeded first, he took gold by defeating France’s Thomas Chirault, 6-2.
“It feels great,” said the 28-year-old, who finished ninth in this event last time out. “It wasn’t the plan to come here. I decided [to come] on Monday. I didn’t expect this. I just came here with the aim of ‘let’s try; we will see what happens’. It’s great, it’s one of the best competitions in the world.”
Dutch 23-year-old Jonah Wilthagen turned heads by shooting five perfect ends of 30 to knock out none other than Brady Ellison, before falling to Chirault in the semi.
In compound women, Brady’s wife Toja beat Meeri-Marita Paas 144-143 for gold. Ellison, who was runner-up at the World Cup Final last season, finished with an emphatic 10 to edge out her Estonian opponent.
“It feels awesome,” said Ellison. “I have never shot in this final. I have shot finals, but I have never made into this amazing one with the crowd and everything. This was the goal today and I knew I had to go into the gold medal match because bronze wouldn’t be enough, so it just feels amazing.”
In the last match of the event, 21-year-old French international Girard took out Spain’s Alberto Blazquez, 147-146, bettering the third place finish he had two years ago to the top spot. In a tight final, Girard needed a 10 to take victory – which he delivered with style.
“I was quite a bit shaky with a lot of nerves but with a good mental game I was happy to be there and wanted to win,” said Girard about his final 30. “It’s a massive accomplishment right now. A dream come true.”
2022 Indoor World Series Finals: Selected Individual Medallists
Gold:Nicolas Girard (France)
Silver: Alberto Blazquez (Spain)
Bronze: Mike Schloesser (Netherlands)
Gold: Toja Ellison (Slovenia)
Silver: Meeri-Marita Paas (Estonia)
Bronze: Tanja Gellenthien (Denmark)
Gold: Felix Wieser (Germany)
Silver: Thomas Chirault (France)
Bronze: Jonah Wilthagen (Netherlands)
Gold: Penny Healey (GBR)
Silver: Casey Kaufhold (USA)
Bronze: Ana Maria Rendon (Colombia)