Best of 2016: The arrows of the year

With the shift from straight-scoring to head-to-head matchplay, not all arrows became equal. Finding that 10 when absolutely needed – not when nursing a huge lead – is the skill that sets some of the world’s best archery athletes apart from the rest.

1.  Ku / Ellison

Ku Bonchan’s historic individual campaign in the Sambodromo twice came close to derailment, with nerves apparently affecting the 23 year old several times that day. Taylor Worth had been matching him set-for-set in the quarterfinal, and the fifth set saw Ku falter, putting in a nine, an eight, and another nine. Worth needed just a final nine or better to go through, but shot an 8.

Ku delivered a strong 10 in the shoot-off to finish the job. 

But the sternest test was to come against Brady Ellison in the semifinals. Ellison was in strong form, opening with two beautiful 10s and matching a slightly choppy Ku almost arrow for arrow. After splitting the first three sets, Ku took the fourth and looked in command until Brady closed out with two superb shots in the middle to force the tiebreaker.

As both archers paused while the targets were changed, Ellison, knowing he was shooting better and with the benefit of far more experience looked far calmer than Ku, who was getting the first of several beratings that day from his coach. 

Brady stepped up, paused, and slightly raised his eyebrow before sending down… an eight. The door was wide open. Ku shot strongly, and the arrow landed on the eight/nine line. It was enough – just enough.

He turned to Brady with a slight smile. He knew he had escaped death by just millimetres. It wasn’t the best arrow he shot that day, but an arrow that seemed to symbolise his day in history; under immense pressure, with luck on his side, and enough to do the job. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

2. Dos Santos

As many past Olympians will state, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of stepping out in front of a home crowd to compete at a Games. Brazil had that opportunity in Rio during the summer – and one archer in particular took advantage.

Ane Marcelle Dos Santos’ first match – in which she was the lower seed – was against a clearly out-of-sorts Saori Nagamine. It was a messy affair, both putting arrows across the target, and came down to a final arrow in the fifth set, with Dos Santos needing an eight to advance.

Ane drilled a 10.

If any arrow is remembered from the Brazilian team’s performance in Rio, it deserves to be that one.

3. Sjef’s quarterfinal

in the Rio men’s individual quarterfinal. Sjef van den Berg’s strongest match at Rio saw him take on 2013 World Archery Champion Lee Seungyun, in a testy, high-quality encounter. After four sets, it was 4-4 and there was little between them.

Seungyun drilled two 10s then a nine, but Sjef had the goods and an emphatic 30 points when perfection was absolutely necessary. Sjef knew all about delivering decisive arrows - he had already made it through a double shoot-off against Ricardo Soto of Chile earlier that day. 

Honourable mentions

Brady’s record: Breaking a ranking round world record requires three things. One, the archer has to be in form; two, they have to control their nerves and, three, the shots that are close have to land in. As the round progresses, someone on record pace has a harder battle dealing with all three.

That’s why that last arrow of Brady’s world-record setting indoor round in Marrakesh – of 598 out of a possible 600 points – was so impressive. It wasn’t close, it was in. And with such little margin for error.

Ki Bo Bae’s 10-10-10: Under immense pressure, Ki’s semifinal match with Chang Hye Jin saw her confidence and focus apparently wander among tricky winds on the finals field – a sight rarely, if ever seen.

Her bronze medal match against Alejandra Valencia saw her still distracted from the semis loss, sending down an almost unheard of three in the third set, her head shaking. It was tied 4-4 after four sets, and you would have had Alejandra Valencia at even money or better to take the bronze that Ki, with the best will in the world, must have regarded as a bare consolation prize at best.

She recovered seconds later with three 10s of staggering quality in the fifth to take the bronze, before bursting into tears. It was an emphatic reminder of the champion, fighter and human out there on the stage.

Laying the gauntlet: Some archers choose to shoot second, most – we’d guess – would prefer to go first, especially in a shoot-off. Sara Lopez shot first – and shot X10 – in her shoot-off against Crystal Gauvin for Medellin gold. Marcella Tonioli shot first – and a better nine – in her shoot-off against Sarah Sonnichsen for Odense gold.

If either Gauvin or Sonnichsen had managed something closer, they’d be further up this list.

Kim’s Korean qualifiers: During the qualification process for the Korean Olympic team, there were a series of different events in which hopefuls could earn points, which would in turn earn those with the most number of points an invitation to the Games. Some of those events were shoot-offs – and in each and every one, Kim Woojin came out on top.

(Kim, remember, was the reigning World Archery Champion when he missed out on a spot on the London team. He was determined this time around.)

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