“World champ baby!” – Stutzman delivers in Dubai

Matt Stutzman shoots at the world para championships.

Sport is about emotion and stories. 

It is about pushing the human body and mind to its limits and then pushing it further. It is also about coming back from adversity, from defeat and showing strength to succeed.

It is also about inspiration and making a difference.

Most of all, it is about dreams coming true and for USA’s Matt Stutzman, today in Dubai was the perfect ending to what has been a fairytale week at the 2022 World Archery Para Championships.

He ended it with compound men’s gold, defeating Aleksandr Gombozhapov, 142-137, in the final.

Stutzman led throughout, confident. So much so, after the second end and with a 56-54 lead, he turned to his supporters inside the Dubai Club For People of Determination and shouted “you’re witnessing history guys”.

They were – and he meant it for reasons we’ll get to shortly – and as Stutzman ended with a perfect 30 he exclaimed “about time, that’s right” to a shout from his crowd of supporters, before bowing to them in the spectator seats. 

But then the realisation. The contemplation. The self-titled ‘Armless Archer’ had won world championship gold before – in the 2015 team event – and individual bronze last time out, in 2019. But exactly a decade on from his breakout Paralympic silver in 2012, he fulfilled the career-long dream.

To be called an individual world champion was what he wanted and in the United Arab Emirates today the enormity of what he had achieved sunk in after his last arrow.

He took time to sit down and contemplate.

He had beaten a guy who he had inspired to take up the sport, Gombozhapov having seen YouTube of Stutzman, who had called him his “hero” this week, after he losing both arms and a leg in a freight train accident in 2003.

“It’s taken forever to get this far, but what better way to end it,” said Stutzman. “I focused really hard about the process it takes to get there, of winning a gold medal.”

“On the last end, I told myself I need to shoot a perfect score right now. I need to do it. I started talking to my brain and did my process and then…world champ baby.”

Stutzman had started his campaign in Dubai with a lowly 54th seed spot after an equipment malfunction in qualification, but maybe it was written in the stars as the draw then saw him play fellow ‘armless archer’ Piotr Van Montagu in the elimination rounds, ahead of the third and final ‘armless archer’ in Dubai, Gombozhapov, in the final.

He won an epic seven matches on his way to the top of the podium.

With the result, and the high profile nature Matt shines on the sport having acted as an ambassador for the Paralympics themselves in both Rio and Tokyo, as well as appearing in the Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix, Stutzman was well aware of its wider implications.

After all, what does this final prove if not that there really are no boundaries in this sport.

He revealed the feeling of today’s victory could only be topped by one other event.

“To be able to shoot against not only one armless archer and then another one in the finals? This is by far the best tournament I've ever participated in in the history of my life,” said a visibly emotional Stutzman. “This cannot be topped, unless this happens again at Paris 2024, then that might top this.”

Matt has indelibly changed para archery since he first stepped onto the competition field.

“People probably told them the same thing, that you couldn't shoot a bow either like they told me,” said Stutzman about his fellow ‘armless archers’. “Now look at them. They’re shooting on the world stage just like everybody else.”

That world stage today saw four other gold medals handed out with the compound women’s individual, mixed doubles and men’s and women’s doubles competitions also taking place.

The Indian duo of Shyam Sundar and Jyoti Baliyan were in early command in the mixed team final, but could not deliver a first world championship gold for their country after a pair representing the Russian Archery Federation took a two-point win, 150-148. The silver medal is still the best result for India in the history of this tournament.

In the first-ever doubles team event at a World Archery Para Championships, Turkey took a 150-149 compound women’s doubles victory over the Russian Archery Federation with 24-year-old Oznur Cure delivering a trademark smile when the judge finalised some line calls that would decide the outcome. That smile lit up the whole arena before Oznur took her hat off and started shouting loudly to the crowd. 

Tatiana Andrievskaia defeated Italy’s Maria Andrea Virgilio 143-140 in the women’s individual event, securing her first gold in three attempts on the day, while Iran won the men’s doubles event, 145-143, defeating Australia after a timing mishap that saw them record a miss.

Earlier in the day the recurve men’s, women’s and mixed doubles, plus a range of W1 eliminations took place.

Competition continues in Dubai tomorrow, with the W1 finals headlining the schedule.

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

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