5 things we learned from the world para championships in Dubai

Event staff at the world para championships in Dubai.

Competition at the World Archery Para Championships in Dubai concluded yesterday (Sunday), with Tomohiro Ueyama and Vincenza Petrilli joining Matt Stutzman, Tatiana AndrievskaiaYigit Caner AydinLia Coryell and Ruben Vanhollebeke as the new individual world champions.

The championships ran on 22-27 February 2022 at the Dubai Club for People of Determination.

Ahead of the event, which had been postponed by a year due to COVID 19-related restrictions, a lot of the talk was about whether those who had impressed at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics would be able to do so again at the first major para archery event since the Games. Though triple Paralympic Champion Zahra Nemati was among a handful noticeably absent, plenty of big names were in action.

Dubai also debuted the men’s and women’s doubles format, replacing the previous three-archer team events. This more than doubled the number of participating squads from 29 teams to 65 doubles across the three competition classifications.

The last days of the championships were impacted by the emerging crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in the International Olympic Committee condemning the breach of the Olympic TruceWorld Archery sanctioning Russia and Belarus at future international tournaments, and multiple organisations offering support to the Ukrainian delegation in Dubai.

Here’s five things we learned from the championships.

Matt Stutzman and Aleksandr Gombozhapov at Dubai 2022 after their gold medal match

1. Stutzman makes history

“World Champ baby!”, said USA compounder Matt Stutzman following his victory over Aleksandr Gombozhapov. “It’s taken forever to get this far,” added the self-titled ‘Armless Archer’, who took silver a decade ago at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

But the final was more about the USA athlete winning gold.

It marked the first time any major final had seen two archers without arms competing – and Stutzman had faced a Piotr van Montagu in the eliminations round too, the third and final ‘armless archer’ at the championships in Dubai.

“To be able to shoot against not only one armless archer and then another one in the finals? This is by far the best tournament I’ve ever participated in in the history of my life,” said an emotional Stutzman.

Oh, and Gombozhapov had only taken up archery after seeing a YouTube video of Stutzman, who he called his “hero”.

Mongolia's Baatar Javkhlantugs and Demberel Selengee receive their bronze medals at Dubai 2022

2. First podiums three countries…

An India athlete had never medalled at the tournament. That changed on the second day of competition with Jyoti Baliyan and teammate Shyam Sundar Swami defeating Iraq, Italy and France to qualify through to the gold medal match in the compound mixed team event. Even though they did not stand top of the podium after their final against the Russian Archery Federation, Indian newcomer, Pooja, gave India a second shot at their first-ever world title a few days later.

She fell just short to the impressive Vincenza Petrilli in the recurve women’s final… but more on the Italian later.

Pooja’s silver is India’s best-ever result at the championships.

Dubai was memorable for Pakistan, too. Tanveer Ahmed’s silver in the visually impaired event was his country’s first medal in the history of the championships. “We came here with the hope of participation,” he said afterwards. “The silver medal is a bonus, something more than what I expected.”

Mongolia’s recurve women’s doubles bronze, courtesy Javkhlantugs Baatar and Selengee Demberel, was also its first-ever world para championship medal.

“My left leg had to be amputated after an accident in 2016, I lost my job in construction company, but I didn’t give up,” said Baatar. “I got inspiration from Mongolia’s first Paralympic gold medallist, archer Dambadondogiin Baatarjav, to start archery.”

“This medal is a special one,” added Selengee.

Vincenza Petrilli at Dubai 2022

3. Triple crown

Others tried – but only Italian recurver Vincenza Petrilli booked a clean sweep in Dubai. On the final day of competition at her first world para championships, she won the mixed doubles, women’s doubles and women’s individual events.

“I’m so happy and it was not expected,” said Petrilli after her third gold. “My heart was running but I was able to keep calm and put the focus on the process.”

The 31-year-old won recurve women’s silver at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games last summer.

“It was not enough for me, I got angry,” said Petrilli. “One by one [here in Dubai] I got [the golds]. This is a day that will  remain in my mind and heart forever.”

Ruben Vanhollebeke after winning gold at Dubai 2022

4. Who can beat Ruben Vanhollebeke?

“I am pretty confident to defend my title,” said Belgium’s Ruben Vanhollebeke ahead of starting his visually impaired competition.

His confidence was not misplaced, as Vanhollebeke won his second, successive title following 2019 by beating Pakistan’s Tanveer Ahmed, 6-0.

The victory mirrored that of the final three years ago in ’s-Hertogenbosch, where he defeated Cypriot Misos Christos.

“In Belgium, we have a saying that you ‘do not sell the skin of the bear before it’s shot’,” said Vanhollebeke about if he thought he would win a second successive title. “It means – never say that you’re going to get gold if you don’t have [that thought] in your head. I worked a lot for it. I enjoyed it and I played with a lot of fun this week and that's the important thing.”

Will Vanhollebeke take a triple in 2023? Only time will tell.

Dubai 2022 venue officials

5. The venue

No event can take place without the people who help run it. The people in the foreground, the people in the background. Dubai rightly put the spotlight on athletes – but it wouldn’t have happened without the team, and venue, that made it possible.

The Dubai Club for People of Determination is a bespoke venue for host para sport competition.

From being fully accessible to wheelchairs, to purpose-built athlete areas and the extra activities put on just for this tournament, including food and craft stalls, it proved why Dubai has quickly become one of the most popular para archery competition venues on the international circuit.

Photos courtesy Yayha Essa (Dubai Club for People of Determination).

Quotes courtesy Priyanka Sharma (organising committee) and Antoni Cichy.

Individual champions: Dubai 2022

Medal table: Dubai 2022

1. RAF flag Russian Archery Federation: 11 (4 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze)
2. TUR flag Turkey: 6 (3 gold, 3 silver)
3. ITA flag Italy: 6 (3 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
4. IRI flag Iran: 3 (2 gold, 1 bronze)

Athletes representing 18 countries collected 47 medals across 16 events in Dubai.