Stage winners enter Paris with welcome sense of relief

Atanu Das celebrates his victory at stage one of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Guatemala City.

Nora Valdez is dreaming bigger these days. 

The perfect arrow she shot in a tiebreak at stage one of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup didn’t just give her the first individual victory on the international circuit of her career. 

As her teammates were quick to inform her, it also unlocked access to the exclusive Hyundai Archery World Cup Final that closes each season. 

“I wasn’t used to thinking about it,” the compound woman from Colombia said.

“I knew there was this points system and everything, but it wasn’t something I considered before or during the competition. To me, that’s a good thing. It means I was focused on the present. I love the idea of it being a surprise and that I wasn’t concerned about it while I was shooting.”

Valdez’s opponents won’t be as fortunate when they step to the line in just over a week for stage three of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Paris. Save for Denmark’s Tanja Gellenthien, winner of stage two in Lausanne, the rest of the compound women in attendance will have little choice but to win gold if they intend on competing at the season-ending event in Yankton.

With the international circuit reduced from its customary four stages to a scant three due to the pandemic, archers have lost a valuable opportunity to accumulate enough points or win outright in order to attend the final event.

The only archers to reach the final four of both stages so far, Gellenthien and world number one compound man Mike Schloesser, have already won gold and won’t need the points earned through their consistent play in order to compete.

For everyone else, though, earning invites on points alone might not be enough this season – with two opportunities to accrue those numbers already past – placing a greater burden on archers to claim their spot with an automatic bid in Paris before it’s too late. 

“The past few years that I went to the finals, I always got my ticket really early in the year, so I spent the rest of the World Cup with a sense of relief and no pressure at all,” said reigning circuit champion Sara Lopez, who finds herself in an unfamiliar position without an invite this late in the season and her chances at defending her title looking increasingly unlikely.

“Without a ticket, I have to not only worry about training for the finals, because I don’t know if I’m going to be there or not, but I also have to work hard to qualify,” she continued. “There’s even more pressure that’s applied to it.”

Braden Gellenthien shoots at stage one of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Guatemala City.

Atanu Das, on the other hand, enters stage three relieved of such concerns. Like Lopez, the recurver from India was forced to watch stage two from afar because of travel restrictions. But unlike Lopez, Das’ first-career gold medal in Guatemala City guaranteed his spot in Yankton and sidestepped any additional pressure that might have come his way. 

“It’s awesome,” Das said. “There have been so many years when I tried to make the final but I didn’t get selected by one or two points. Especially after missing Switzerland, I’m very happy I don’t have to worry about Paris.”

Das could miss the event altogether if he wanted to, but he and his Indian teammates – most notably his wife, Deepika Kumari, who also won stage one in Guatemala – will take advantage of the pressurised environment to focus on their technique and performance processes with a view to the Olympics, allowing the actual results to take a back seat. 

As Braden Gellenthien of the United States said after securing his spot at the start of the season, “Those moments where you have one arrow to decide a match or you need to come up with two points at the end, you press a little more. But if you already have the win secured, you can keep it rolling.”

Valdez, meanwhile, will look to continue her progression from third archer to contender for Colombia’s formidable compound team. With Lopez and 2013 Archery World Cup Champion Alejandra Usquiano unlikely to attend the circuit finale, the onus will be on the 23-year-old to keep the compound women’s title in her country’s possession.

Her spot might be secure, but the burden of success comes with its own set of expectations.

“It’s not just your country watching, but the whole archery community watching and expecting things from you,” Valdez said. “I really admire Sara for being able to cope with all of that, because I know it’s not easy. Now I understand the whole system and what it’s like to be at that level.”