Best of 2016: The matches of the year

Matchplay is what awards medals in international archery competition. With the biggest prizes on the line, how archers react to the pressure, the responsibility and the atmosphere in the arena is what separates champions from the rest of the field. Here’s to celebrating head-to-head excitement and quality wherever we find it.

1. USA / Korea, Rio

The recurve men’s team final of Rio 2016 will be remembered as perhaps the greatest sustained display of team target shooting ever witnessed. 

After London 2012, when the USA men’s managed to beat the Korean men in the semifinal, you sensed that the stage would see the same battle again, one already replayed over many Olympic archery finals - and with an unexpected history; Korea’s men had never beaten the US men in an head-to-head Olympic match.

In Rio, with Korea taking the first seed and the USA qualifying second, another chapter was on the cards, and so it proved. 

The 2016 Hyundai Archery World Cup stage victories proved there was little to doubt about Korea’s quality, but the USA were bullish going into Rio. On men’s team day, collectively they proved they had the goods, producing just a single eight each in matches – both wins – against Indonesia and China, with every other arrow better than that and an air of cohesion and confidence.

Korea, for their part, seemed impenetrable, relaxed, improving with almost every end. 

The big showdown, the first archery medal event of the Games, did not disappoint. The Koreans opened with six 10s to the USA’s 57, followed by a 58 to another 57 from the USA, after the men in white had an arrow upgraded, keeping the pressure up.

But Korea, after a slightly tense second end, had their fire fully lit and drilled in a 59 in the final end, finishing with three astonishing 10s – all almost inside out.

The 6-0 scoreline barely reflected the USA’s quality – they would have beaten anyone else in front of them, but Korea raised the bar to another level entirely, averaging 59 out of 60 points through the three sets. Ku Bonchan, who would go on to take individual Olympic gold, hit the 10 with all six of his arrows.

Brady Ellison, the USA’s anchor in the match, said: “Perfect is hard to beat. That was a world-record performance that they put on. You’re not going to see three sets going that high probably ever again. Last time I felt we lost the gold, but this time I felt we won the silver.”

Afterwards, the USA men bowed to their counterparts in respect, and not surprisingly: It was one of the most incredible performances we may ever see in the archery arena.

2. Kim / Das, Antalya

What seemed like a routine bronze medal match at Antalya turned into a battle royale.

In blistering heat, Atanu Das raced to a 4-0 lead, then World Archery Champion Kim Woojin found three 10s to get back into the match. The archers split the third with 29s, before Woojin levelled with three 10s to force the shoot-off.

Both archers shot tight 10s, with Kim’s eventually ruled closest by just millimetres. (And it was close.) One of the best Hyundai Archery World Cup matches we’ve seen in a few years, and one of the best quality shoot-offs, too. 

3. Lopez / Gauvin, Medellin

Through three Hyundai Archery World Cup stages in 2016, Sara Lopez was unbeaten. In fact, the last world-level match she lost was the semifinal at the World Archery Championships in 2015 – to none other than the USA’s Crystal Gauvin.

On Lopez’ home soil in Colombia, Gauvin and Lopez met again for Medellin stage gold.

It was the closest she came to denting that perfect record. Gauvin ran her all the way to a tiebreaker, before Lopez drilled an X10 to open the shoot-off, 14.9mm from the middle. Crystal’s arrow was 24.9mm from the X.

Honourable mentions

Ellison / van den Berg, Odense: The recurve men’s gold medal match – and a repeat of the bronze medal playoff in the Sambodromo. Brady took a 4-0 lead, but seemed a little tense, and Sjef levelled things up after Brady shot an arrow through the clicker in the fourth set.

After Brady opened with an eight in the fifth, it seemed like Sjef’s to lose, and he needed just a nine to finish the job. He sent down something so incredibly close to the line that it needed the magnifying glass, but was eventually ruled an eight.

In the shoot-off, Brady shot a way outside nine, but Sjef couldn’t slip through the open door, and Brady took his fourth Hyundai Archery World Cup Final crown to cap an extraordinary 2016 outdoor run. 

Van den Berg / Garrett, Shanghai: The recurve men’s final at the Hyundai Archery World Cup season opener in Shanghai turned into a fascinating psychological battle between two of the best young archers on the planet – and gave Sjef his first individual win on the circuit.

USA / Iran, Shanghai: Iran didn’t face the US during the World Archery Championship winning run in Copenhagen in 2015, as the States men had missed the cut due to a scoring mistake, so this match felt like a chance to prove something.

And prove something Iran did. Despite shooting a seven in the last end and squandering a lead that got to six points at one moment in the match, Iran won, 229-228.

Chinese Taipei / Mexico, Rio: The comeback of the Games, and the best match of that day. Four-nil down, Chinese Taipei found eight 10s in the final two sets to force the shoot-off, where they just held their nerve to slip past Mexico and into a final-four that the trio eventually converted into bronze.

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