Expert predictions: Forecasting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
The wait is over.
Delayed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally begin this week. Fortunately for archery obsessives (and curious beginners), the competition starts on opening ceremony day – 23 July – with qualifying for all five events.
Storylines are plentiful and questions abound. Who will claim the inaugural mixed team event title? Can Korea continue its reign of terror over the sport? How will the pandemic, which hovers over everything, affect who crests the podium in Japan?
To make sense of it all, we’ve polled the following panel of experts for their predictions as we await the start of the biggest sporting event on the planet.
- Nicky Hunt, broadcast analyst
- John Stanley, journalist
- George Tekmitchov, podcaster
- Andrea Vasquez, journalist
- Chris Wells, journalist
1. How will the absence of spectators affect the outcome of the archery events?
Chris: Some archers feed off the energy of the crowd, Others are stunned by it. In a sport that is very personal, everybody filters into one of those two camps. One of those camps is going to struggle, the other is not. It’s not going to be a deciding factor either way – but it is going to be another thing that each athlete has to deal with in their own way.
Nicky: This is certainly going to be a different experience for any past Olympian. For the archers on the line, it might be an advantage. Athletes generally prefer the energy of a crowd, but archers must try and remain as calm as possible. However, silence can also be hard to concentrate in. I would say most archers want things calm and quiet, but there are a few who like to feed off the crowd. There are Olympic medals at stake, and it’s all about who can deal with that pressure, screaming fans or not.
George: Every single archer will, at least subconsciously, know that the eyes of the world are upon every single match and every single shot. There will be an impact, and it is the Olympic Games. Nothing in our sport brings more pressure – or glory. Additionally, I think photography shutters – the actual sound of the cameras – will be a significant factor in terms of distracting sounds, unmasked by the usual crowd noise. It might have an impact on some less-experienced participants. Watch for potentially odd clicker work out there.
John: Many Olympians have described the moment when they walk into the arena, greeted by the biggest crowd they will ever receive, as one of the greatest of their lives. For the archers on the podium, they will get to enjoy that medal for the rest of their days; they will gladly forego a few seconds of cheering for that. I hope the TV producers can try and make it special for everyone watching.
2. A number of countries – including Korea – skipped the international circuit to focus on the Olympics. How will that decision play out?
George: Considering how some of the top shooters performed out of the gate Hyundai Archery World Cup earlier this season, I think there will be absolutely no impact. We will see the usual Korean brilliance, but we will also see some upsets. It is inevitable.
Nicky: It’s difficult to predict which way it will go for Korea. Clearly they’ve had their own extensive training plans, shooting in their own replicable Olympic stadium. The depth of quality within their own country is so vast that they won’t have lacked competition practice. Making the Korean Olympic team is arguably harder than winning the Olympics themselves. But have they missed out? It’s been two years since they’ve been on the highest international stage (bar the Olympics). Have others got a taste and belief that they can do it? Will the Korean women ever fail to take the women’s team gold? I fully expect Korea to walk away with a lot of bling, but I don’t think they will be quite as dominant this year.
John: The big Asian teams will be prepared, no question. They will be lacking, however, the rhythm of competition and the relaxation gained by turning up with a win or two this year. They can get nervous and twitchy like anyone else. Still, it gives us all a bit of a thrill, especially not knowing what China and Chinese Taipei will bring to the party. Everyone will be ready to shoot, but who has brought a clear head and the focus required not to blink?
Andrea: I doubt it was a decision made out of choice. There’s no question all teams arrived in Tokyo fully prepared, in one way or another, whether they competed internationally before the Games or not. Will they know how to deal with the competition nerves? Will they have the rhythm of competition that others have experienced this year? Will they know how to handle the pressure from an opponent? It‘s all yet to be seen.
3. Who has the most to gain with a strong performance at the Olympics?
Chris: Bangladesh, India and Mexico. There’s a huge amount of domestic focus on the archers from these three countries, because they all have podium potential. Particularly for India, you can feel that medal brewing. It’s been doing so for a while. It’s coming. Is it here, though?
Nicky: I would say Romania’s Madalina Amaistroaie could have the most to gain. An 18-year-old who sprung into 2021 and took a quota spot in Paris at the last chance, she seems relaxed and perhaps even naive about this opportunity (a brilliant place to be). Medals are often won at the Games by first-timers, perhaps with no expectations and no bad experiences to get in the way. The same is true of Nicholas D’Amour, who hit the international scene in 2018 without note but post-pandemic, the 19-year-old has risen to world number three. His belief is that he deserves to be there and to gain a medal. He’s one to watch.
George: Considering the amount of attention and the relative laser glare of the non-endemic media, I would say the USA’s Brady Ellison to cement his legacy, Takaharu Furukawa at his home event to give archery another tremendous boost in Japan and France with their momentum headed toward the Games in Paris just three years from now. If Korea wins, well, that is already sort of expected. How do you get any higher than they have been? By doing it again, of course. I will also say that if Oh Jin Hyek manages to win, he will enter the pantheon of ‘absolute greatest ever’ – a fitting cap on his career.
4. Who is your favourite to win in Tokyo?
George: It comes down to who can handle the incredibly sapping heat and humidity of Tokyo, the inevitable wind and weather and the pressure. Korea, the experienced USA men, Mexico’s women – and I really think we will see something special from Japan here.
Chris: The youngest archer in Tokyo, Kim Je Deok of Korea, and Mexico’s Ana Vazquez. The Korean women to extend their undefeated streak in the team event, married couple Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari in the mixed – and I have absolutely no idea in the men’s team event. It’s wide open.
Andrea: The perfect endings to this season’s stories would be for Brady Ellison or Deepika Kumari to rise to Olympic glory. If not individually, in the team or mixed team events.
Nicky: Deepika Kumari enters the Olympics for the second time as the world number one. But in London 2012, she was beaten in the first round. Rio was full of problems, but she’s come back so strongly, attending stage one and stage three of this year's international circuit and winning both. In fact, she left Paris with individual, team and mixed team gold. It doesn’t get any better than that.
John: There’s been a lot of talk about the Chinese Taipei women’s team and their chances of beating the Koreans again. People sometimes forget the Taipei men’s record against the Korean men is actually better in recent years – including at the Asian Games in 2018. They could do a lot of damage. I also hope host Japan get something this year. They’ve been a little forgotten about, and they could make something happen.
5. What are you most excited about for this year’s Olympics?
Nicky: I’m really excited about the mixed team round. I’m so pleased this has been adopted into the Olympics. It’s going to allow so many more countries a shot at gold! Qualifying is key, as only 16 of the 29 teams will make the cut. The format is fast and fun. Anything can happen! I’m excited to see what the world-number-one Dutch men’s team can do.
Andrea: Getting started and living some unexpected stories.
John: That there will be some new champions and probably all new podiums, and whoever is there will probably fully deserve it. I really hope the mixed team brings surprises and opportunities for some smaller nations. Hopefully, it will become one of the most interesting wings of the sport.
George: Quite frankly, that we are having them at all. I will be utterly relieved when this is in the books. Cancellation would have been devastating for our sport worldwide. And I am gutted for the volunteers and spectators who can’t be there in person. But I think Tokyo will serve as a springboard for even more excitement and momentum heading toward Paris. And we can celebrate the fact that – despite all the world has thrown at us in the past 18 months – archery really is back and on the biggest stage sport has to offer.
Chris: The first scoring arrow. Let’s get started.
Competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games starts with qualifying on 23 July 2021.