Sara Lopez managing expectations ahead of last stage in 2021

Sara Lopez takes a moment for reflection at the City of Medellin World Ranking Event.

A bit of delusion goes a long way in archery. 

Athletes, we are told, must approach each competition with unwavering confidence. There is no room for wandering thought or the management of expectations. A gold medal is always within reach. The inner monologue must only speak of triumph, resolute in the certainty that they will succeed.

Sara Lopez, the renowned compound archer from Colombia, is an example to the contrary. A candidate to make history at the start of the season, the five-time Hyundai Archery World Cup Champion has learned to reflect differently since the international circuit began with a disappointing finish in Guatemala City.

A victory at a world-ranking event in Medellin did little to stop the bleeding. The pandemic was particularly unkind to her native Colombia, and funding wasn’t available to send Lopez and her compound teammates to the second stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Lausanne.

Reaching the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in Yankton, at this point, is a longshot, and no one knows this better than Lopez. But rather than reject her current circumstances and clash against reality, the 26-year-old has taken a sensible approach to how she will navigate the rest of the season.

“I can’t pretend to shoot my highest score ever because I’m not ready for it yet,” Lopez said on the phone from Puerto Rico, where she has been staying to comply with the requirements needed to enter Paris for stage three of the international circuit, beginning on 21 June. 

“I don’t have my uniform here, I don’t have my second bow, I don’t have as many arrows,” she continued. “I’m not at my best right now, and I’m aware of that. But it’s okay. When I arrive in Paris and put my feet at the shooting line, that will be a gold medal for me.”

Sara Lopez celebrates her victory at the Moscow 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.

A different archer might approach Paris with a sense of ferocious intensity, determined to overcome the odds and return to glory. The improbable nature of their pursuit would only serve as motivation. It would make the taste of victory even sweeter. 

Lopez, instead, has liberated herself from those concerns. After missing Lausanne – in an Olympic season that has been shortened from the normal four stages to just three – she knows that it is unlikely she will qualify for the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final on ranking points. A final four is necessary and a stage win is what she really needs.

“Of course, I always want to win, but I have to be aware of my level right now, and I’m not in my best year,” said Lopez, who is nonetheless currently number three in the compound women’s world rankings. “But if I look at my past years, I know what I can do. I know my scores. I know what I can accomplish when I train really hard.”

Lopez’s mentality is startling for both its pragmatism and its candour. She has dominated the compound women’s category since 2014, and she was well-positioned to add a sixth circuit title to her resume after comfortably winning a record-fifth in 2019.

The weight of sustained excellence may have taken a toll, or perhaps the pandemic offered a newfound sense of clarity. But while Brady Ellison of the USA, also seeking a sixth title, has appeared as hungry as ever coming out of the break, former medical student 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.

"Winning is not the most important thing for me right now,” Lopez said. “Of course, the possibilities are open and I will do my best to win, but I won’t be sad if it doesn’t happen. The worst thing that can happen is that I don’t get to go to the finals, and I still have five, so that’s okay.” 

The third stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup starts with qualification on 21 June in Paris.