Best Olympic Archers of All-Time: #12 Sebastien Flute

Images courtesy JD Gitton/FFTA

Each week in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, we’ll be revealing another athlete on our list of the top 15 Olympic archers of all time. This week, it’s…

#12: Sebastien Flute

NOC: France

Born: 25 March 1972, Brest, Finistère, France 

Olympic caps: 3 (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000)

The Medals

Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games

The quote

“The magic of the Olympic Games is what makes me wake up in the morning and go to the practice field.” – Sebastien Flute

The Reason

Sebastien Flute’s individual gold win at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona remains France’s greatest Olympic archery triumph in the modern era. Just 20 years old, Flute had already won the indoor world championship in 1991, and followed that with the European outdoor title in 1992.

In Barcelona, Flute placed 14th in the ranking round. On 3 August 1992 he started an historic day by beating Im Hui Sik of Korea, 107-102.

He followed that with easy wins over Han Seung Hoon of Korea and Jari Lipponen of Finland, followed by a tougher battle against Martinius Grov of Norway, which he won by three points. 

In the final he faced the last remaining Korean, Chung Jae Hun, who had topped the ranking round (and would go on to win an individual World Archery Championship nearly 13 years later).

The scores were tied after nine arrows of the 12-arrow match, but Flute coolly sent down a 10, nine and a 10 with his last three arrows to claim gold. He had won the Olympic title and had beaten all three of the Korean team to do it - a feat replicated by China’s Zhang Juan Juan in 2008.

He is the last left-hander to have topped the Olympic podium to date. 

And to rub salt into Korean wounds, the next day Flute and the French men’s team knocked Korea out of the competition in the quarterfinals, with France eventually finishing fourth after losing to Great Britain in the bronze medal match.

(Eight years later, in Beijing, France would take their only other Olympic archery medal when the women’s team took bronze - by defeating Great Britain.)

Flute’s gold was hugely influential on the sport in his native country, causing the number of registered archers in France to jump by 20% the next year.

“I don’t know if the national interest was enhanced by the powerful TV images, or by the fact that there was no athletics on that day, and the French media had no other subject to focus on,” he said. 

“All these factors led the two main French TV networks to broadcast my gold medal match live. This brought focus on archery and in France it is now perceived as a real sport and not only as a recreational activity.”

After winning the world team title in 1993 with France, Flute returned to the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta but was knocked out in round one by Martinius Grov, the man he had defeated in the semifinal four years previously.

Less well known was his strong run at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where he finished eighth, defeated in the quarterfinals by eventual bronze medallist Wietse van Alten.

“I have a special place for the Sydney competition,” said Seb. “I hadn’t been shooting well for a long time before Sydney and I was only hoping for a good team result.”

Flute continued to shoot professionally until 2000, but retired in that year to work in insurance, and to start his own line of archery products.

After commentating at the Beijing Olympics, the competition bug hit him hard again, and in 2009 he started a methodical, disciplined training programme with one goal in mind: a medal at London 2012, saying: “I know better than most people what it takes to win the Olympic title.” 

Despite securing the French national title in 2011, the comeback didn’t have a fairytale ending when he failed to make the national team for London, and fell back into retirement. 

Flute now plays a role in the French national federation, and is well known for his equipment business.

“This is a nice way for me to continue to stay present in the sport I love, even if it is no longer with bow in hand... or at least much less than before,” he said.

Flute’s win is testament to the power of mental discipline and self-awareness. He explained in 2015: “Archery is a sport in which the mind is a key element, no matter the level… the difference [at the top] is the archer’s ability to remain master of his emotions, and to stay in the moment, to shoot your shot without being disturbed by the context.”