Expert predictions: Forecasting the first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup

France’s recurve women celebrate during the first stage of the 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Medellin.

The first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup, and the start of the international circuit’s 15th season, is just days away.

Three of the four reigning Hyundai Archery World Cup Champions – Brady EllisonMike Schloesser and Sara Lopez – will shoot next week in Guatemala City. As for the rest of the field? Well, that picture contains far less certainty.

This is the first world-level international since the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the international season in 2020. It’s anyone’s guess just how the results will shake out as around 150 archers from across the globe compete for the first stage titles, and tickets to the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final, awarded in well over 18 months.

To make sense of it all, we’ve polled the following panel of experts for their predictions heading into the official start of the international season.

  • Nicky Hunt, broadcast analyst
  • John Stanley, journalist
  • Dean Alberga, photographer
  • George Tekmitchov, podcaster
  • Andrea Vasquez, journalist
  • Jeff Kirshman, journalist

1. Eighteen months have passed since the last Hyundai Archery World Cup event. What are you watching most closely as the first stage of the 2021 season begins in Guatemala?

Nicky: In an Olympic year, all eyes will be on those still seeking quota spots for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. I'm particularly interested in following Jean-Charles Valladont, the Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist, who is still without a ticket to Tokyo 2020.

George: Personally, I’ll be looking to see if the French recurve women’s team can recapture some of the greatness of the past. With the Olympics in Paris only three years away, events like Guatemala City will be a strong bellwether of their potential. Germany is rebuilding its recurve team and that will be interesting as well. The recurves of Colombia are matching some of the promise of their incredible compound shooters, with their accomplishments at the Pan American Championships in Monterrey a recent example. Is Guatemala the springboard they need to be a seriously competitive factor – possibly even in Tokyo?

John: I'm intrigued by the USA recurve men behind Brady Ellison: Matt Requa and Trenton Cowles. There’s a lot of talent there and I’m wondering if that’s a trio that could grab three men’s quota places to the Olympic Games in Paris later this year.

Jeff: The Hyundai Archery World Cup has a tendency to announce – often prematurely – the arrival of a young insurgent archer who is subsequently ordained for world-beating success. Which newcomer will dazzle in Guatemala, and can they uphold that standard for the entire year?

2. What is the biggest unknown on the circuit this year?

Andrea: Korea hasn’t entered any of the stages yet. They’re completing their national Olympic trials while we’re in Guatemala. Will the team register for the upcoming stages in Lausanne or Paris, or will they just focus on the Games, since they have their quotas secured already and won’t want to risk any international travel?

George: The effects of the global pandemic and the stunning disruption – not only to everyday life but the carefully crafted plans and four-year efforts of every athlete around the world who targeted Tokyo in 2020 – is a huge unknown. Recurve archers who were able to keep the fire going in spite of the setback of the last year will have the advantage as they ramp up for the postponed Games and  particularly for the compounds  the Hyundai World Archery Championships in Yankton. Who will have the mental fortitude to get back in the game? The advantage may lie with the shooters who have had an opportunity to compete in regional events, and who have already built momentum.

John: Lisa Barbelin of France is not entirely unknown internationally, but in 2021, she has finally made a huge impact. It would be awesome to see her take the momentum from Porec and Antalya through to the full circuit – and maybe to Tokyo as well. And like a lot of people, I’m interested to see what Nicholas D’Amour brings to the party. It would be great to see someone from a smaller nation go deep.

Dean: The biggest unknown for me is whether we will be able to have a full season with everything that's been going on. I sure hope so – and I’m looking forward to it.

3. Who has a better chance of winning a record-sixth title this year: Brady Ellison or Sara Lopez?

Jeff: For the sake of making a decision, I’m going with Brady Ellison. The pick here is more a reflection of his talents than Sara Lopez’s deficiencies. Both archers won their fifth titles comfortably at the Moscow 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final, and both are well-positioned to add a sixth in 2021. Yet while Ellison appears as hungry as ever coming out of the pandemic, Lopez has taken a more holistic approach to life since quarantine. An admirable development, to be sure, but not necessarily the one that’s required when making history.

John: We haven’t seen much of Brady outdoors recently, although I have no reason to doubt that he is maintaining extraordinary form. We have seen Sara, who was a little unlucky in the wind in Monterrey. Lopez, when on form, is so difficult to beat. No one ever quite comes up to her level, while Brady will have to face some men who will get close to his. So I’m picking Lopez to do it once more. 

Nicky: Brady’s 2019 season was just insane: world champion, a world-record ranking round and he took gold at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final. It doesn’t get much better than that. But will he keep his momentum, or has it been lost in 2020? With the Olympic team silver medals in London and Rio – plus the individual bronze at the latter – he will be pushing hard for gold in Tokyo. I expect him to come out in top form.

Sara has dominated the compound women’s event since 2013 – and she’s started 2021 with silver at the continental championships. She seems to have utilised 2020 to rest and re-evaluate her mindset with the drive to win, but a better understanding of perspective. That’s a strong place to be, and she will be a fierce competitor this year. If I had to lay my cards on the table now, I think I would bet on Brady.

Andrea: Both have the quality to do so, but they both have also been away from tournaments for over a year. With the uncertainty that this season brings (considering the COVID-19 situation) and Brady focusing on the Olympics, I’ll be bold and say neither of them will do it this year. (But for the sake of an excellent story, I hope they prove me wrong!)

4. Who are your favourites to win in Guatemala? 

John: Without the big Asian teams in the mix in Guatemala, it’s a more open field, although I would put Ellison at even to take the men’s recurve win, and the USA compound talent heading out is fierce. Natalia Avdeeva is coming off a crushing win in Antalya, and it is difficult to see her not on the podium. I am very keen to see how hard Anders Faugstad has been practising since his breakthrough year in 2019.

Dean: This one is a complete lottery to predict after the lost season. So I will go the safe route and pick the obvious, Sara Lopez and Brady Ellison. The recurve women’s event could be a battle of the young stars. Lisa Barbelin had an amazing indoor season and Casey Kaufhold has continued her upward trajectory. Saying this, I don’t wanna rule out the more experienced archers like Lisa Unruh or Aida RomanCompound men is anyone’s game. There are so many top guys, but I’m still picking Mike Schloesser.

Jeff: Outside of the obvious reigning champions in attendance, Linda Ochoa-Anderson could climb the podium in her first year competing for the USA. After more than a decade of success for Mexico, the compound woman’s world ranking of 29 is misleading after missing the past two years due to the pandemic and the switch of national teams. Apologies for underestimating Lopez for the second consecutive answer, but it isn’t difficult to envision a refreshed Ochoa-Anderson bursting onto the scene in her new shirt.

5. What are you most excited about for the upcoming season?

George: We are back, and I could not be happier for the countless shooters around the world who have been waiting for this moment. As we count down the (now less than) 100 days to Tokyo, the return of the Hyundai Archery World Cup is exactly what we need to remind ourselves of the excitement and momentum of the sport worldwide, ahead of what will be a glorious Olympic Games in Japan, and an incredible World Archery Championship at the end of the outdoor season.

Nicky: I am really excited to see the single-arrow shoot-offs back. For me, this is the ultimate nailbiting end to a match. I love the anticipation!

John: I’m excited to see the new young recurve talent coming out of Asia and the southern hemisphere. We’re still not sure if we’ll get to see the biggest teams in action before Tokyo, and there may even be a few international newcomers turning up at Yumenoshima Park, which could make it the most surprising and exciting Olympic Games in living memory.

Dean: Getting back to archery in general, with the games in Tokyo as the highlight.

Andrea: The end of months of prognostication and finally having some real, tangible international competition results to talk about – rather than simply guessing what might be.

Jeff: The fact that it’s happening at all. The pandemic has demanded patience and fortitude out of everyone, even in the best of circumstances. The return of the outdoor season serves a symbolic purpose as well as a practical one as we focus our attention on actual archery instead of the various ripple effects brought on by the pandemic.

The first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup starts with qualification on Tuesday in Guatemala City.