Psarra hopeful Paris prints place in Olympic history books
Evangelia Psarra is bidding for a record-breaking seventh Olympic Games but to get there she will have to out-shoot a rapidly-improving newcomer: her daughter.
Psarra, 48, was the first Greek archer to compete at a Games back in 2000 and will become archery’s most experienced Olympian if she makes it to Paris.
But there are no guarantees Greece will win individual or team quota places, and even then the question over who the federation will send could quickly become a taboo subject at the dinner table with her daughter Maria Nasoula also competing for a place.
And despite the sport dominating conversation at their home in Thessaloniki, with husband and father Alekos Nasoulas their joint coach, Psarra insists that Maria is forging a path of her own volition.
“I never pushed her,” said Psarra. “For both of my children, every day in our house from the moment they were born they were surrounded by bows and arrows everywhere.”
“They tried a lot of sports and my daughter ended up with archery. She used to do it as a hobby at first but then automatically it turned into something more ‘professional’.”
At 17 years old, Maria won Greece’s under-21 national championships in February and has enjoyed steady improvement on the international stage too.
At a European Grand Prix in Plovdiv last May, Maria finished bottom of the pile in qualification – 324 points behind her mother in 26th – before exiting in the second round.
Not even three weeks passed before Evangelia was eclipsed in qualification at the Mediterranean Games in Oran, as Maria earned the 10th seed, her mother five places lower in 15th.
And though the pair are yet to meet directly in matchplay at the international level, Psarra said the sight of Maria lining up to shoot alongside her was disorientating in the beginning.
“At first it was difficult because I couldn’t see her as an opponent,” Psarra said. “I only saw her as a daughter and I was her mother, trying to figure out if anything was wrong and trying to help her.”
“I wasn’t paying attention to myself. It was the same for her. I’m her mum so anything she needed she would come and ask me. But fortunately, we’ve now both got used to it.”
The dream scenario would be for the duo to qualify as part of a team for Paris 2024 – alongside a teammate of no relation, perhaps Anatoli Gkorila. It’s a feat that Greece has never achieved, the country’s only team appearance coming via its automatic involvement as host in 2004.
In those days, Psarra was at the peak of her powers, ranked third in the world and destined to reach the Olympic quarterfinals surrounded by glittering marble and throngs of fellow Greeks.
First built circa 330BC, the Panathenaic Stadium was the historic venue for the opening and closing ceremonies at the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games – and the competition venue for archery in 2004.
But its rich history is just one reason it was so special to Psarra, who still maintains she was not disappointed to fall outside the medal positions.
“It was awesome,” she remembered. “You get a different feeling competing there than at any other stadium.”
“It wasn’t only because it was at the Panathenaic Stadium but also because it was in my country. I had people cheering me and supporting me. This was something so different from most other competitions.”
Psarra has no regrets at finishing seventh.
“Of course, every athlete who dreams of Olympic Games and World Championships wants a medal,” she admitted. There’s still time.
March 2023 marked the 20th anniversary of Psarra’s only world medal, a bronze at the 2003 World Archery Indoor Championships in Nimes.
The Hellenic Air Force lieutenant’s memory is hazy after two decades, but there is one moment that sticks vividly in her mind.
“I don’t really remember the competition until I got to the semifinal,” Psarra recalled. “I played a girl from France [Bérengère Schuh], who went on to win the gold medal.”
“When we went into the stadium, everyone was cheering for her. It was something I hadn’t experienced before.”
The atmosphere in the arena made the Greek archer a little nervous and anxious, but then – and this is the fact she remembers the most – after Schuh beat her to reach the gold medal final, the crowd began cheering for Psarra in her bronze medal match.
“There was Greek music playing and they were all cheering for me and it gave me strength.”
That’s when she started thinking about competing in her own country the next year at the Olympics, and the opportunity to experience a sympathetic crowd once again.
But all that is ancient history now, and Psarra has a laser focus on the near future and qualification for Paris.
She was the first reserve for Rio 2016, making it only after the withdrawal of the Ivory Coast’s Carla Frangilli. For Tokyo 2020, she qualified outright, snatching a quota place at the final qualifying event.
Whether she makes it back for a history-making seventh time, alone or with her daughter, Psarra insists the record books are not her main priority.
“I don’t really think in that way, that it will be number seven, a record,” she said. “I hear other people talk about it, but for me, it’s something I want because I decided to continue doing archery.”
“It’s something that I want to achieve, not only for the record or for the seventh Olympics or anything, but just for myself – because I love doing it.”