Return and retain? Defending para champions in Dubai

Ben Thompson in qualification action at Dubai 2022

They say it is harder to retain a title than to win it the first time, but that is what a select handful of the world’s elite para archers are aiming for as the 2022 World Archery Para Championships get underway this week in the United Arab Emirates.

Out of the eight gold medallists from the last edition of the event in 2019, five are back on the world stage to reassert their global authority.

Ben Thompson (compound men), Nur Syahidah Alim (compound women), Elena Krutova (W1 women) and Bahattin Hekimoglu (W1 men) are all looking to start 2022 with gold, while Belgium’s Ruben Vanhollebeke, who won the visually impaired 1 title three years ago, has also returned and will be competing in the combined visually impaired 1 and 2/3 combined event in Dubai.

“I am very excited to be back in competition and I look forward to starting my season,” said Syahidah, who became the first-ever Singaporean archery world champion back in 2019.

“All competitions are important to me, but I’m happy to start my season in Dubai. I hope to shoot my best and make Singapore proud.”

The former world number one started off in the best possible way, seeding top in the qualification round with a 680.

“It feels good,” she said. “I’m really happy about the qualification. I did my best and I’m happy with the outcome. I’m looking forward to the elimination rounds and will do my best to make a good result.”

“It can be a bit windy here, but it’s a good challenge for me and shooting here is really fun.”

Nur Syahidah Alim at Dubai 2022 qualification

Ruben Vanhollebeke’s competition does not get underway until Thursday and despite a self-assuredness, he is taking each day as it comes.

“I am pretty confident to defend my title,” said the Belgian, who broke the visually impaired 1 qualification world record three years ago with 394 points. “But today is not tomorrow and tomorrow is another day. I am enjoying myself and that’s the important thing.”

The Belgian has been consistent for many seasons and puts it down to two important relationships in his life.

“After my wife, archery is the first thing for me,” said the 44-year-old. “My connection with my coach and trust in him plays an important role [in my consistency] but also practising, practising, practising and enjoying yourself on the shooting line.”

The USA’s Ben Thompson started his campaign today, too. He took a 143-126 win over Kevin Evans in his first match, having seeded 12th of the compound men in Dubai with a score of 666.

“It’s a little early to start outdoor for us,” said Thompson ahead of the tournament starting. “I have some nerves but it’s great to see the faces again. There’s less restriction and easier travel so it’s nice to get back to normal.”

“I feel pretty good. There’s a lot of good shooters are out there and Marcel Pavlik from Slovakia will be the one to watch out for.”

Action continues in Dubai with compound eliminations tomorrow, starting with mixed team and doubles matches in the morning.

Photos courtesy Yayha Essa (Dubai Club for People of Determination).

Quotes courtesy Priyanka Sharma (organising committee) and Antoni Cichy.