Tanja Gellenthien versus Sara Lopez is a battle of equals in 2021

Sara Lopez and Tanja Gellenthien in 2021.

Reigning champion Sara Lopez earned an automatic bid to the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final last week with her victory at stage three of the circuit in Paris, temporarily rectifying the concerns of target panic that have plagued her for the early part of the season. 

After suggesting that her pursuit of a record-sixth Hyundai Archery World Cup title was off the table, citing a variety of concerns related to the ongoing pandemic and her shooting alike, the world number two from Colombia finds herself with the chance to defend her title after all.  

But how does a tumultuous 2021 compare to previous seasons that ended with her lifting the trophy? Winning is a great indicator of success, of course, but simply looking at a result has its limitations.

By looking at other metrics, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of an archer’s abilities.

Sara Lopez’s competition stats 2014-21

*Seasons in which Sara Lopez won the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.
Year Average arrow Matches Tiebreaks Qualifying
2014* 9.56 12-4 (75%) 1-1 (50%) 695
2015* 9.70 20-3 (87%) - 713
2016 9.68 22-2 (92%) 1-1 (50%) 710
2017* 9.73 29-4 (88%) 1-1 (50%) 707
2018* 9.72 23-0 (100%) 1-0 (100%) 704
2019* 9.76 17-3 (85%) 3-0 (100%) 713
2021 9.66 13-2 (87%) - 702

Lopez has been great for at least the past seven years. (Statistics for the 2020 season are non existent because it was cancelled due to the pandemic.)

But a key indicator has dropped slightly in 2021: Lopez's average arrow in her past four Hyundai Archery World Cup title-winning seasons has been 9.70 or above. This year, it’s just below at 9.66.

The reason for this dip is up for debate. Is it a symptom of the target panic Lopez has alluded to since a windy Pan Am Championships back in March? She hasn’t reached the 710s of previous years in qualifying, either, and this won’t have helped.

Nevertheless, the match win percentage is right up there with that of her best years – save that incredible unbeaten season in 2018 – and she hasn’t found herself in losing single-arrow tiebreaks. So why isn’t she winning at the same rate?

The answer comes via her opponents.

Take the current world number one, Denmark’s Tanja Gellenthien, who is enjoying the best season of her career with three podium finishes, including gold medals at stage two of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Lausanne and the 2021 European Championships in Antalya, Turkey.

Tanja Gellenthien’s competition stats 2015-21

Year Average arrow Matches Tiebreaks Qualifying
2015 9.57 6-2 (75%) - 697
2016 9.50 1-3 (25%) - 693
2017 9.58 12-6 (67%) 2-0 (100%) 697
2018 9.61 9-5 (64%) - 702
2019 9.65 10-9 (53%) 1-1 (50%) 708
2021 9.73 13-2 (87%) 0-1 (0%) 706

Over a similar sample size, it’s clear that Gellenthien's level has increased every year.

In 2021, she’s finally caught up.

This pattern is consistent with all of Lopez's main competitors over the past half-decade. The 26-year-old had, for some time, been head and shoulders above the rest in terms of ability. That no longer rings true.

Has Gellenthien had a better season than Lopez in 2021? Measured on wins, it’s a yes. Tanja has two major victories to Sara’s one.

But their match record is identical.

In compound competition, where match winners are decided by the highest cumulative score over 15 arrows, who you face – and how well they shoot – is often as critical as how well you perform. Limiting our sample to the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit, which notably excludes Gellenthien’s excellent European Championship campaign and Lopez’s windy finals at the Pan Ams, who has faced tougher competition this season? 

Match score comparison on the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup

The maximum score in a compound match is 150 points.
Archer Matches Average match score Opponent’s average match score
Sara Lopez 8 145.88 143.38
Tanja Gellenthien 10 145.20 143.1

Extremely close, but Lopez has delivered marginally higher-scoring matches against higher-scoring opponents.

Perhaps the talk of target panic is overblown. Her 149-point match to beat teammate Alejandra Usquiano in the Paris final certainly attests to her ongoing quality – and the statistics describe an athlete perfectly capable of adding a record-sixth Hyundai Archery World Cup Champion title at the final in September.

The simple fact is that it won’t be as easy as in previous seasons.

Process and results, after all, don't always align in archery. Whether it's Lopez, Gellenthien or another worthy competitor who leaves Yankton with a title, it will be the product of both skills and circumstance. 

The result will only tell one part of the story.