Sjef wins battle of wills, with Garrett forced to settle for Shanghai silver

The recurve men’s final at the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Shanghai turned out to be the headline event, both figuratively and literally. It was a battle of confidence as much as anything, between two athletes both just 21 years old and in the peak of form this week. 

Sjef van den Berg has emerged as the top recurve archer in the Netherlands, but clearly with broader ambitions and - since he left school to train full-time - a relentless physical and mental training schedule. 

Zach Garrett has similarly emerged from the deeper pool of USA recurves with a relaxed, disciplined approach to the sport. Both went through the field during eliminations on Thursday with serene confidence, with Garrett surviving a shoot-off by millimetres. There’s nothing like a brush with death to give you confidence. 

For Garrett, it was his second World Cup stage final in a row (not including the showcase final in Mexico City). In Poland he had lost to a surging Jean-Charles Valladont, but afterwards seemed happy with his performance. But it left something to prove. Silver would not do. 

Garrett opened in the Shanghai final with a 10 that looked like the most natural thing in the world.

Sjef sent an eight down the range, but nodded, acknowledging the wind.

Garrett added another 10, and another, and turned away, relaxed. He knew what he was capable of. Sjef edged two nines a little closer, but the set points went to Garrett. 

In the second end, van den Berg finally found the ten ring, and visibly relaxed. His 27 was enough to square the match after Garrett slipped a bad seven to the upper right, and the eight Sjef shot didn’t seem to bother him. He tapped his fingers against his thigh. He knew it was good. It was coming. 

Both men seemed to be in the zone with 29 apiece in the third, but Sjef had opened the throttle.

He rattled off six 10s in a row, and after the fifth, with Garrett still needing to shoot an arrow in a dead end, suddenly Zach seemed rattled. He held the last arrow of the end way too long, and was visibly more tense. The confidence was slipping - just a crack. 

He shipped a rotten seven to open the next end, and Sjef replied with his sixth 10. Finally the head was shaking. It was done. Sjef won 7-3, but the scoreline didn’t reflect the match; which was less an archery contest, more a battle of who could believe in their own ability the longest.

“Obviously I didn’t shoot the way I wanted to, but it happens. I’m doing my best to figure it out. Next time will be better. It’s just the way it happens,” Garrett said afterwards.

Sjef was upbeat.

“I just wanted to get the job done,” he said. “It’s so important to get the last ones in. It’s not over until the fat lady sings, right?”

His first World Cup final win surely makes him a top favourite for the upcoming European Championships in Nottingham next month.  

Wei Chun-Heng beat out Mexico’s Ernesto Boardman to the bronze medal to add another gong to Chinese Taipei’s medal haul for the day. 

In the mixed team contest, the experienced Indian pair of Deepika Kumari and Das Atanu beat the Korea rookies in a shootoff for the bronze medal. 

There was better news for the USA in the mixed team final, as Brady Ellison and Khatuna Lorig both shot strongly to take gold against Chinese Taipei. Tan Ya-Ting and Wei Chun Heng were not as fluent as in their other matches, and the USA found the tens when it mattered. It was a great save for a USA touring party which has had - by their standards - an unsettled meet.

Afterwards, Khatuna Lorig said: “Personally, I’ve been working really hard, ironing out a lot of inconsistencies. I think as a team we know we need to train harder. But we’ll try to take positive energy from here. Every competition teaches you something.”