Tom’s Blog: 20 years in World Archery

Memories disappear if they are not recorded. Therefore, on the occasion of my 20th year in sport as a professional, I have decided to write some paragraphs for each of the years in the two decades I’ve spent in international sport.

(For the full story, you’ll have to wait for my autobiography… if I ever get around to writing it!)

Some anecdotes are too young and too confidential, at this stage at least, to mention. And my apologies to all those I have met, especially the 1000s of volunteers, or events that I attended that were important, and I will not have the space to mention. My thanks to all of you.

Special thanks, however, go to my parents, who are going through a difficult time at this moment; my wife, who has supported me every day – and that is not as easy as many may think; my entire family; Raoul Theeuws, without whom this adventure would never have started; Beppe Cinnirella, my father in archery; the three World Archery Presidents I have had the pleasure to work with – in particular I thank Jim Easton for giving me the chance to start this challenge and our current President, Prof Dr Ugur Erdener, who is always there when I need him despite travelling even more than me; all of the Executive Board members I have worked alongside, and Werner Rau, Klaus Schulz and Werner Beiter for their inspiration.

To all of the World Archery and WADA staff I have had the pleasure of working with, again, thank you, and that will have to do for now, since my communications manager tries to convince me that short is beautiful.

Foreword by the President

“Dear Tom, today is your 20th year serving our great sport, except a few years when you were in WADA, and I am happy to have worked with you in World Archery for more than half of it.”

“In this period, we have made many improvements for the sport together with our executive board members and staff and still we continue. I am very proud and very happy that we have such a capable body managing archery and great harmony inside that organisation.”

“Good team, good leadership and good results. These are directly related to one of the International Olympic Committee’s important goals of this moment: good governance. I am very proud that World Archery is one of the good examples of this important issue and your great contribution to this is both vital and valuable.”

“Tom, I wish you many more successful years serving our great sport and I thank you very much for all your efforts.” – World Archery President Prof Dr Ugur Erdener.

1996: Arrival in Milan

On 1 June, I turn up at Via Bartolini 39 in Milan, Italy, the apartment used as the FITA office. Beppe Cinnirella introduces me to Valma, my first assistant.

He also makes it clear that the most useful tool in the business is the rubbish bin. (I agree, but must admit that my current desk shows I may not have been his best pupil.)

The office in Milan.

What I regret most about Milan is the ice cream shop between the office and my apartment.

I meet Director General François Carrard at the IOC in July 1996 and he gives me a 30-minute lesson on the basics of sport politics. In short – know your place and all will go fine. Lesson well learnt, and still applied.

The Atlanta Games, particularly the dramatic bronze medal match with Paul Vermieren, stick in my mind. So does the trip to the closing ceremony.

Our driver forgets the accreditation for the car to enter the Olympic Stadium and we are stopped 500 metres from the entrance. Instead of just walking the remaining distance, we are sent on a huge detour. (I don’t think it was a situation foreseen in their security manual.) 

After walking for a long time we eventually end up on the actual athletics track, while passing all the preparations for the ceremony. We walk along the track and up to the stands from the only place we should never have been.

In November, we move the office to Lausanne, the Olympic Capital.

1997: Time for change

My first congress and first major championships in Victoria, Canada. It becomes quickly clear that things have to change drastically in the way events are run.

Good memories of the event include Christophe Peignois’ second place, it being the first event with prize money and some serious television production.

While trying to get things under control, I need to have an urgent talk with Jim Easton, who is busy talking to a woman. My question is answered and he introduces me quickly, saying: “Tom, meet Geena”. She’s on site to watch the finals. I get back to what I am doing.

Later in the day several people ask me what I think of Geena Davis. Geena who? Ah, that Geena – the one from Thelma & Louise.

I was probably the only one who didn’t ask for her autograph that day.

1998: Meeting my wife

On 1 August, Nathalie and I plan to see Four Weddings and a Funeral at an outdoor cinema. It was raining a lot and we are both close to cancelling.

In the end we go to a regular cinema and watch Titanic. Who knows what would have happened if the weather had been nice that day.

It’s also the year we first do live competition results on the internet with a spreadsheet I develop. We were far from the current live coverage but it was a first step.

FITA organises the first ski archery world championships in Cogne, Italy. We need a Swiss team so two friends of my assistant, Sandrine, who are football players and do some cross-country skiing in the winter, and one top archer, Jeff Abt, who knows a bit about skiing, prepare for the event.

One objective is not coming last.

The day before the team event, I arrange a special lesson from a local ski instructor to make sure the team is prepared. They succeed – not last – but the big “L” on the back of their shirts is a pretty clear hint that they are still learning.

As a bonus I take the skis to a local shop to get them prepared for the second day. In the race, the Swiss archer is the only one to clean the archery but he finished behind the two football players.

Mission accomplished, though: None of them is last!

1999: The day I nearly resigned

The Riom congress was, by far, the worst congress I have attended.

After a full report on two candidatures for the World Archery Indoor Championships, congress decides to give it to Castellanza, based on a movie and not on facts. That night in the bar, I run into one of the Italian delegates, who asks me why the event was awarded to Italy.

He says that the proposed venue is bad, the organiser will cause issues and the event will likely be a disaster. I answer that everything he has said is in my report, but no-one read it.

One month before the event, the competition is moved to Florence after all that was predicted happens. The defeated bidders from Nimes help to save the tournament.

The positives: congress stopped awarding events and Nimes then organised the World Archery Indoor Championships two years later.

On a boat trip in Sydney with Raoul Theeuws and Beppe Cinnirella.

2000: Sydney

In June, Nathalie and I marry. She is a Swiss archer who has just entered the national team. We honeymoon in Antalya.

The European qualifier for the Olympics happens to be there at the same time, but we stay at the Club Med, far from the archery field.

Prof Dr Ugur Erdener, at that time a board member, insists we spend some days at the Xanadu, a hotel that just opened. It would be the first of many visits.

In Sydney, Simon Fairweather becomes Olympic Champion on home soil. 

The final was one of the best matches in the Games’ history and the body language between Coach Lee and Simon said it all: he was always going to win it.

2001: World Trade Center

While in China, the day before congress, Beppe calls me into his room.

“You have to see what is happening.”

We watch as the second plane goes into the World Trade Center in New York. I watch the Marriot Hotel, which is close by, collapse. I stayed in that hotel in 1995 while working for SWIFT and it was one of the best hotels I ever stayed in.

We knew the world would not be the same.

The championships are a moving experience. One of the more emotional moments in my career is the FITA flag going down to half post during the opening ceremony.

Those who were there will understand.

Towards the end of the year, I visit New York, since the city wants to organise the World Archery Championships in 2003.

2002: WADA

I get a call from the Director General of WADA. He asks if I know someone who could take the new post of international federation relations and director of WADA’s European office.

A few months later, the change is done and I start a new challenge.

Just before I leave, I give my successor a plan for a project that I think would be good for the sport: the Archery World Cup…

…it stays in a drawer for the next three years.

2003: The future

The World Archery Indoor Championships are finally held in Nimes. There is an unbelievable atmosphere at the finals, in the Roman arena, and the IOC President visits to watch a fantastic final between Frangilli and Di Buo.

I was fortunate to experience the World Archery Championships in New York as a team manager. The event is special.

Congress appoints me to the constitution and rules committee.

Most of the year is spent finalising the first World Anti-Doping Code and it is a real pleasure to work with Rich Young. We spend hours at night on it. Some text in the current version is still the fruit of some of my proposals, and since not a lot is left from the initial draft, I must have been useful somewhere in the process.

Towards the end of the year, Jim Easton and Prof Dr Erdener invite me to a meeting to discuss the future of the international federation. This meeting would have certain consequences for both me and the sport.

Juan Carlos Holgado is jealous of me.

He asks how the hell I achieved something he has never achieved as Olympic Champion: Being on the front page of Marca. I tell him that it is easy – give a presentation on a section of the code that we knew would never pass the final draft. 

Before I knew it, I was headline news in Spain at the first SportAccord Convention.

With Werner Rau, the father of IT usage in archery results.

2004: Athens 

Many years afterwards, the IAAF lead council mentioned to me how close I was to ending up as witness at CAS in the Greek sprinters tragedy that took place during the Olympic Games.

Months ahead it was clear something was going to happen. It did.

How a wrong post code in a fax would lead to an investigation that ended up in two athletes having a motorbike accident was still a surprise for all involved.

My father-in-law passes after a year-long fight with cancer. He was a great person to talk to and a true lover of food.

Despite trying hard to qualify for Athens, Nathalie just isn’t there mentally during the European qualifier – but she is motivated to try for Beijing.

Meeting the pope with Mario Scarzella and Olympic Champion Marco Galiazzo.

2005: I am back

Congress elects Prof Dr Erdener as President in Madrid in June 2005, based on the 10-point programme we had created. As a result, congress also elects me Secretary General.

The World Archery Championships are a fight from start to finish. My first job is to send Juan Carlos on holiday for the duration.

A few weeks later I am at the IOC Session in Singapore, where archery is confirmed as a sport on the Olympic Programme. Two other sports are not and we decide to make sure that a plan is put in place so that archery is never again in question.

It’s the start of the World Archery Plan.

There is a rare “in-camera” discussion about if I can stay stay at WADA at its Executive Committee’s next meeting. The conclusion is that I cannot combine the role with that of Secretary General and I must resign from one of the two positions.

During the meeting, WADA President Richard Pound thanks me and tells me I am making a huge mistake by leaving WADA.

I thank him and the entire committee for having considered all options and reply that you learn more from mistakes than from success.

Working with Dick for three years and three months was never dull and I learnt a lot about sport politics and some great expressions. One for the road…

“It’s much easier to be busy than to look busy.”

Others you can find in Dick’s books.

2006: Out of the drawer

The Archery World Cup starts in Porec. It is a finally a reality. Rain nearly kills the concept, but the event team makes it happen. Alojsz and Drasko do great things, too.

In June we move the office to Maison du Sport International, where it remains. (Yes, already 10 years ago as well!)

The Archery World Cup Final in Mexico brings unexpected challenges. An archaeologist strike at the pyramid, satellite truck cables being too short and the snakes at the venue preventing us from getting on site early in the morning all complicate matters.

How we survive this final is a mystery – but we pull through, and Reo Wilde wins the final with an impressive perfect score.

2007: Valeeva repeats

In Leipzig, Italy’s Natalia Valeeva wins her second World Archery Champion title outdoors. The event is a big success.

During preparations, the organisers don’t want to sell tickets because it’s too complicated but they are convinced otherwise – and then sell out.

Congress approves the World Plan and merges the dual roles of Secretary General and Executive Director. I become full-time Secretary General, which becomes a paid position.

On a trip I see a sign in Istanbul airport that stays with me: “Perfection is hidden in the details”.

It is not an easy thing to live up to.

2008: Beijing

The Games of extremes. The opening ceremony in Beijing is unbelievable. I enjoy presenting the flowers to Zhang Juan Juan, the Chinese wonder-girl who ends the medal streak of the Koreans, and watching my wife shoot in the Olympics.

Nathalie has a good match against Erdinyeva, the bronze medallist in Leipzig.

The 2008 Archery World Cup Final venue in Montbenon, Lausanne, Switzerland.

As a last minute solution, we organise the Archery World Cup Final in Lausanne. A demonstration of the mixed team event is organised, where Nathalie and Viktor Ruban defeat Ms Park and Chris Marsh (who would become our Event Director some years later). 

The event is a great success and our former President, who is watching, has the idea of building a training centre in Lausanne. The start of a new project.

2009: 006

Ulsan: A video screen made of water jets, two opening ceremonies and a field that’s made big enough by removing a hill. And, of course, Korean excellence in both the organisation of the World Archery Championships and the results.

Congress elects Prof Dr Erdener for a second term and we make major changes to the rules with the introduction of the set system.

The World Games in Kaoshiung, Chinese Taipei bring challenges. My car plate number is 006. A pity I didn’t get 007.

2010: Africa’s 1st Gold

The first Youth Olympic Games produce a first Games gold medal for Africa, when Ibrahim Sabry beats all the favourites to win the tournament in Singapore.

The mixed nation mixed team proves a great success and the IOC President, who watches the gold medal match, says:

“A Turkish and Singaporian medal in this mixed team event… that is really exciting. It must be a Belgian who is behind this competition format.”

He was right. (I was born just outside Antwerp.)

2011: World Archery

In Torino, congress celebrates the 80th anniversary of the creation of FITA. We propose to change the name to World Archery.

France objects, saying it will destroy 80 years of history.

Great Britain’s delegate takes the floor and states that they have 150 years of history and just changed their name from GNAS to Archery GB.

The motion is carried. We have a new name.

There is a huge blunder on the day of team qualifications for the Olympic Games. The DOS uses the wrong time for a shoot-off. Luckily, the jury of appeal does the right thing and corrects the situation, but the consequence is at the level of diplomatic interventions between Georgia and Turkey.

2012: London

Great moments of the 2012 Games include watching my wife shoot against Tan Ya-Ting with Pascal Broulis, the minister of finance for the Canton of Vaud. He is more nervous than me.

Nathalie shoots a brilliant match but two arrows are 1mm short of the line and she is eliminated. But she won her mental battle and reports on her performance are positive.

With World Archery President Prof Dr Erdener and HRH Price Albert of Monaco in the writing room of the pavillion at Lord’s Cricket Ground during London 2012.

I present flowers to the gold medal winners during the last days with HRH Princess Nora. It is an incredible final with a dramatic shoot-off finish: Aida Roman is so close but Ki Bo Bae wins.

2013: The Eiffel Tower

Our venue for the Archery World Cup Final in Paris is fantastic. M Pokora, the French popstar, is the attraction in the crowd and we have a cable camera for the first time. The TV images are amazing.

Tragedy strikes the worlds in Belek. During the event, the compound coach of the Korean team suffers a stroke. Despite all possible medical care, he passes away a few weeks later. He is the first and hopefully only person in our history who passes during one of World Archery’s events.

The World Games in Cali is one of the most difficult events I am involved in, but the outcome is fun. Most hilarious is arriving to set-up the compound finals venue and the venue manager saying:

“Archery? No, this is the roller sports venue.”

The next day, there are 4000 screaming spectators on site watching Sara Lopez and Reo Wilde win gold medals. Those medals say “Word Games” instead of “World Games”. (Despite the mistake being pointed out on draft medals by a coordination committee some time before.)

Some medallists get the medal with the “l” missing. Some get the medal with the additional “l” engraved in, which looks worse!

2014: Ground broken

The Archery World Cup Final returns to Lausanne, giving real meaning to the maxim “there is no place like home”, and work starts on the World Archery Excellence Centre. It’s a long process before ground is broken.

At the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, the mixed team event is close to becoming a nightmare.

The athlete from the Philippines is invited to lunch outside the venue with his parents to celebrate him and his Chinese partner winning their first two rounds. The taxi he takes back to the venue gets lost.

We prepare for the worst-case scenario – he won’t return on time: disqualification, media news, communicating with the Chinese team, TV graphics…

Security arranges quick entry and his coach has a bow ready at the entrance to the finals field. The clock is ticking.

A minute before the start of the match, we receive word he’s arriving. Someone is running very quickly to the field of play and right when the buzzer goes, he gets to the shooting line. Liberated from all stress and out of breath, he shoots well and he and his teammate win the match.

They win the next one, too, and suddenly they are in the final – and walk away with gold.

I congratulate the NOC President of the Philippines on the two gold medals… one for the mixed team in archery and one for the 100-metre running race!

2015: History repeats

Like in Torino, there is a shoot-off to determine who gets the places for the women’s team event at the Rio Games. One more, Georgia is in the shoot-off against Italy.

The judges have one mission: check the clock. This time, all goes well and Georgia wins the shoot-off.

At the Archery World Cup Final in Mexico City, one of my missions is to ensure the VIPs are ready for the ceremonies. However, as one is making his way to the holding area he tears his trousers. 
Disaster – but nothing a magical piece of duct tape cannot solve. Except the people that know about it, nobody notices. 

2016: Rio

This year has only just started but is has been a strange one so far. It has been difficult, with many personal and professional challenges.

My thoughts go especially to my parents and also to Beppe.

I was sorry to have started the year with the difficult situation in Ankara and convincing teams that the World Archery Indoor Championships would be safe in the midst of some terrible incidents in the city. The tournament turned out to be a success, which was a relief.

At the upcoming Games in Rio, we’ll make some new memories.

What’s next? 

Over these past 20 years, I have travelled quite a bit. According to one Facebook app, I’ve covered 53% of the planet. Still 47% to explore, although I might skip Antarctica.

One of thing that his clear to me when I look back over these past two decades: Archery is not about shooting 10s, but about shooting 10s when you need them. These are the wise words of the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Champion, Sebastien Flute.

I translate them to my vision of the sport we all adore. Archery sports administration is not always about making the right decision (I have made many mistakes in my time), but it is about making the right decision when it matters.

I hope I can continue to do that for a little bit longer… but, for sure, not for another 20 years.

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