Meet Sara LOPEZ, Colombia’s new golden girl

Sara LOPEZ became famous in the archery world for the double gold medal performance in Antalya, in what was only her second World Cup event. The 18-year-old medical student, who started compound archery four years ago, is establishing herself as a favourite for this season. She will try to get the gold medal at the Medellin World Cup this week, will represent her country at the World Games in August, and is positioned to qualify for the World Cup Final in Paris.
Please tell us about your golden performance at the Antalya World Cup.I wasn’t expecting such a result so early in my career. I travelled to Turkey with the goal of doing my best, but I didn’t even dream of winning. I had always imagined myself on the podium, but in five years, not now. Round after round I wasn’t aware of what was going on until the moment when only four of us remained on the line. I was really focused on doing my job and it was very nice to reach this level so fast. It made me realise that I’m a good archer and that Colombia can be a very strong team. It gave us all a lot of energy and confidence that we can accomplish much more than we had so far.
How did you handle the pressure of shooting your first individual final?I was actually very nervous, but managed to control my nerves and my breathing, and calm down. The wind was an additional challenge, I’m not used to it, because in my city of Pereira there is no such wind. During the late elimination rounds, when I realised that I would be shooting the final on the beach and in windy conditions, I became very nervous. It made things difficult but I didn’t let it distract me. I focused on shooting well rather than managing the wind. That definitely helped me win. 
What’s more, your opponent was SEOK Ji Hyun, the winner from Shanghai.At first, the thought of facing SEOK made me very nervous. However, I started to tell myself that all archers are equal, the flag and the name do not matter during the match. We have the same bow, the same arrows. I tried to focus on the moment and on my job instead of thinking of my opponent’s name and track record. Instead of thinking of winning or losing, I controlled my fear and people say I looked calm, happy and seemed to be enjoying myself.
What about the team victory?We shot against Korea, known to be one of the strongest teams, then Russia, and finally met the United States in the final. Everybody was cheering for them, but we demonstrated that we could be as strong. We hope to follow in this path, and that this is the first of many good results. Now everybody is talking about Colombia.
What was the impact of your victory in Colombia?People were very impressed because Colombia had never won a gold medal in archery, it was especially impressive considering that Alejandra USQUIANO and I are still juniors. Latin America was regarded as a weak force in archery, as a region that couldn’t achieve good results; we’ve proved that we can do it. This has given a lot of people hope and inspiration. When we returned to Colombia, upon getting off the plane there were reporters and TV crews waiting for us. Our victories have developed an increased popular interest in archery. These combined with the organisation of the Medellin World Cup make good publicity for our sport. Archery is in people’s conversations, and we are almost famous now: people recognize us on the street and want to take their picture with us!
What is your approach of competitions to come?Turkey is behind now, rather than focus on past victories, I want to repeat them. In the end, the outcome of competitions and the winner depend on God’s will. What happened in Turkey made me much more serene and gave me much more confidence in my abilities to perform just as good here in Medellin. The same is true for the team. That’s just what we needed.
The current World Cup stage and the World Games are taking place in your home country. What does it mean for you?It’s much easier because the weather is the same as in my city. We have a complete team shooting here, and we will receive a lot of support. Many of my friends and family members will travel from Pereira to see me shoot, it’s a support that we didn’t have in Turkey, and it gives us much more motivation and good energy to do well. 
What do the World Games represent for you?The World Games are a very important goal of mine, because it’s a big event. A tight selection process applies and only the top athletes take part. What’s more, they take place in Colombia and many people will be there to see the World Games in person. This gives the event more importance and I am very proud to be competing there. 
How did you discover archery?I started four years ago, my brother practiced archery and I accompanied him one day. I saw two athletes shooting compound and fell in love, it was so beautiful and elegant. It gives a much bigger feel of strength and power than the recurve bow, and for this reason I chose to try immediately with a compound bow. I liked it and stayed with it. 
How do you train?I train in Pereira, Alejandra USQUIANO and Maja MARCEN train in Medellin, and the other girls in Cali. My coach for physical condition is from Colombia, and my technical coach is Ever MANTILLA from Venezuela, who has helped me a lot. We focus on the small details, it’s the key to success. We are very focused and very well supported. What is lacking is a united team training. Despite this, there is trust between us and we support each other a lot. The Federation is starting to realise that a united team training would help to grow even more support between us all and make us progress even further.
What are your goals for the future?I would like to compete in the World Cup every year. Until now, only recurve archery has received support because it’s an Olympic sport. Hopefully our success from Turkey will bring us compound athletes more opportunities to travel to international events. I want to progress in the World Rankings as well. This year, after Medellin I’m probably going to compete at the World Cup Stage 4 in Poland, in order to try to qualify for the World Cup Final. And if it doesn’t work this year it can be another year. But I definitely aim to qualify for the Final!
How do you combine your sports career with an academic career?I am a second-year medical student. When I started studying, many people told me that I would have to quit my sport. But I never considered that option, archery is what I like to do most. So far I haven’t had to sacrifice neither my sport nor my studies, and I would like to go on combining the two as long as I can. My University is very supportive and allows me to take time off. For example, the academic year is starting today, so I will miss the first week and many others, for the World Games, the World Cup Stage 4, the World Championships, and maybe the World Cup Final… Sport and studies are my two goals. My typical day is divided between the two: I go to classes every morning from 8 to 12, in the afternoon I train in archery from 2 to 7:30. I then go to the gym and study, and go to bed early in order to repeat that routine the next day. Sunday is my only day off, and I spend it going to Church and spending time with my family. My free time is very limited but there is a time for everything!
Watch Sara tell the Colombian press about her preparation and expectations for the Medellin World Cup (in Spanish).
Follow SARA LOPEZ’ performance at the Medellin World Cup and all the results on our website as of tomorrow. 
World Archery Communication