Vanderwier trading compound for recurve after breakout season

Savannah Vanderwier shoots at the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in Yankton.

Savannah Vanderwier was pretty well unknown prior to this past season.

Her first event with the USA senior squad, after some appearances at international youth events, came at the Hyundai Archery World Cup season opener in Guatemala City – where she podiumed.

There, the 21-year-old beat experienced teammate Alexis Ruiz to individual bronze.

Vanderwier followed up that impressive debut with points finishes at the following two events and, ultimately, an appearance at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in Yankton, where she would lose her quarterfinal in a tiebreak.

All-in-all, it was an undeniably successful year on the international scene.

So it was surprising, then, when Savannah said – just after qualifying the USA a quota place for next summer’s World Games – that the recent world ranking event in Medellin last week would be her “last competition shooting a compound”.

She’s not the first, nor won’t be the last… but she is the latest international archer planning to trade in their compound for a recurve in pursuit of the Olympics.

“I’m a bit of a project at the moment,” she says.

“The coaches here wanted to see what happens if they take a top-level compound athlete on the women’s side and do a switch.”

Others have tried to convert their compound talent into elite recurve results in the past.

The most high-profile case? Probably Brady Ellison, who won international youth medals as a compounder before evolving into the five-time Hyundai Archery World Cup Champion and Olympic medallist with a recurve bow that we know today.

“It’s definitely a risk but nothing in this sport, or life, is guaranteed,” admits Savannah.

“I have nothing to lose, only things to gain and, if all else fails, I’ll go back to compound.”

It sounds very much like, with Vanderwier, the performance programme in the States is trying to replicate some of that past success had by Ellison.

For her part, their new project is going all-in, transitioning from left- to right-handed shooter, installing herself at the national training centre and aiming squarely for LA 2028.

“I really have always wanted to go to the Olympics but it wasn’t an option with compound,” says Savannah.

“I’d never make this switch without the current support structure I have, being at the centre, and it would be way more of a risk doing this completely on my own.”

While there have been success stories, like Ellison, there have also been less positive switches.

Former world number one Nicky Hunt, who’s now the resident analyst on World Archery broadcasts, won the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and then tried to swap ahead of her home Olympics in London. More recently, Crystal Gauvin went ’curve just after collecting a silver medal with her compound at the world championships.

Neither reached the same heights in their new chosen bowstyle.

But perhaps Vanderwier’s situation isn’t comparable. She’s younger, sure, but she’s also only just had a sample of success on the international stage, rather than reached the near-pinnacle. Neither she – nor the coaches investing in her – have glimpsed her competitive ceiling. But, this year, they have seen proof of the temperament required to perform at the elite level.

“Ultimately, the Games is the goal. Actually making the podium at the Games is a big part of that goal,” says Savannah.

“If I don’t make it, I at least want to know that I have given it everything I had.”