Psarra targets record seventh Olympic Games at Paris 2024
Six-time Olympian Evangelia Psarra has announced she will attempt to qualify for her seventh consecutive Olympic Games.
It would be a record in the sport, with the Greek recurver currently in a four-way tie for the most Olympic archery appearances on six.
But her Olympic dream continues as she looks to win an elusive medal. The 47-year-old came closest on home soil 18 years ago when she finished seventh in the individual and fifth in the team event, but has exited in the opening round at the last three editions.
“I feel that it’s not over for me yet,” said Psarra to World Archery from her home in Thessaloniki this week.
“I had problems going to Tokyo 2020… plus COVID and quarantine meant I really didn’t have it in my mind that I would compete in Tokyo. But as soon as Tokyo finished the next thing [on my mind] was that Paris is only three years away and I will try to compete there, hopefully with my daughter.”
Maria, her daughter, is 16-and-a-half years old now – but more on her and Psarra’s family life later.
First: the pathway to Paris.
“I have to get back to the national team which means I have to shoot better than others and be one of the top three women,” explaines Psarra, who is currently ranked 103 in the world, after ranking as high as third back in 2003.
“There are four national competitions from now until April. I have to compete and prove again that I’m a part of the national team and repeat this situation next year as well. I could not be at the first tournament so I have to be at all the remaining three.”
“It’s difficult because we don’t have the base here and things are really difficult economically,” she continues. “It’s not easy for athletes in Greece, especially for archers. Even though we have had so many Olympic participations, it’s not a well-known sport and sponsors… do not really exist within archery in Greece.”
“I live in Thessaloniki, but most of the competitions have been in Athens, so I have to travel around 500 kilometres which costs a lot of money. I have to drive one way, go and compete, then drive directly back to continue my life and my kid’s lives.”
The world championships in Berlin in 2023 will decide the first quota places for the next Olympics.
Psarra has made a habit, over previous cycles, of securing her spot to the Games at the very last moment. She’s the epitome of an Olympic competitor, raising her game just when it’s necessary – for the Games – and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
She’s a strong competitor. And her pathway to Paris, be it secured in Berlin or later, will go through Cyprus.
“Their Ministry of Tourism accepted to cover some of my expenses for this year and to go there for training camps – it’s a good start for me,” explains Psarra, who’s hoping to build more than just her own route to the Olympic this time around.
“My coach, who is also my husband (Alekos Nasioulas), and I have a very close relationship with the Cyprus Federation and we have known President Andreas Theofylaktou for many years. He believes it would be good for me to go over and train and for Alekos to also coach the national team of Cyprus and their young talents. Their athletes can also train with me, we can talk to each other and I can advise them – Andreas has arranged everything.”
Psarra wants to shoot in Paris with her daughter – and for that, Greece will likely need to qualify a full team to the Games. (Nations can usually qualify one archer or three in each gender. There’s little reason to think this will change for the next Olympics.)
“We’ll go for four days next weekend and then again in April for a week or so and then we’ll discuss the programme for the rest of 2022,” she says. “I’ll be in Nicosia, Larnaca and other places where they have training fields. It also helps that they have better weather conditions than we have now in Thessaloniki.”
Whether in a team or alone, if Psarra does make it Paris 2024, she will be making archery history. She’d become the first archer to reach seven appearances at the Olympic Games, ahead of Ilario Di Buo (1984-2008), Natalia Valeeva and Alison Williamson (both 1992-2012), who are all currently tied with the Greek veteran on six.
She will also join an elite group of athletes in any sport from any country to have seven Olympic Games (summer and winter) appearances, with the current group standing at around 30. Psarra will become Greece’s all-time record-holder in the modern Olympics, too, elevating herself above Tasos Bountouris (sailing, 1976-1996) and Agi Kasoumi (shooting, 1984-2004).
In fact, you have to go back to the ancient Olympics to find any Greek athlete who has more appearances, with Herodoros representing Megara in 10 successive games, from 328-292 BC – in the trumpet.
Psarra’s Olympic history, while expansive is, obviously, far more modern.
“I was at a government school in Thessaloniki after high school in 1994 studying for a diploma about the wildlife and nature of Greece, it was something new at the time,” explains Psarra. “We were learning about the lakes and the forests, about the animals that lived inside them and all the different types of kinds of plants and trees.”
The school first took them to a shooting club but Psarra stayed behind to try archery with her now-husband, Alekos.
“I was intrigued by the fact that I had to hit the target and that it was an immediate outcome,” she said. “Maybe that's what kept me interested and maybe that's why a lot of people do archery?” Five out of the six Greek archers at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games came from the same school.
It has been well-documented that Athens 2004 remains Psarra’s best-ever Olympic memory, and rightly so.
Coming out on home soil in front of 3000 fans chanting your name at an ancient Olympic stadium is hard to beat, but one other Olympic memory sticks in her mind.
“I remember in Sydney, at my first Olympic Games, attending the opening ceremony,” says Psarra. “As you know, Greece is the first team that comes into the stadium and that feeling when I walked inside and there was a whole stadium cheering for Greece. I never felt that before. It was amazing.”
“When I first started in 1994 I did not think that I would even compete in competitions. I was almost 21 years old so it was no time to think that I could be in a national team or compete in international competitions, or even in an Olympics. It was just a hobby for me, to be in a sport, to be in another community. It never crossed my mind.”
So how does Psarra keep finding the motivation to come back?
“Well, it’s a way of life now. I've been doing this for so many years. It became a part of me,” she says. “Every time I had big breaks after giving birth to my daughter, first, and then my son, I had, maybe, a two-year break, but then something inside me said that this is not the end. I kept coming back.”
“For me, it's a family thing. My husband is also my coach from the first time I shot with a bow. Over the years, after my kids were born, after trying many other things, they were into archery as well.”
“My daughter is now shooting with me and every time I may have thought to stop it, my family tell me to keep going. There are bows in every room of the house and there are times that we don’t talk about archery, we talk about other things, but having bows around is like having a bookcase in the house – you don’t always say ‘I'm going to read that book now’, it’s something that is just there, something we simply don’t see,” she says.
During the quarantine period of COVID-19 in Greece, Evangelia and her family were locked down in their flat, but archery found a space.
“We don’t have a [garden] in my house, it’s just a flat, so we set up a three-metre range in my living room – we had times where no-one could walk through our house because we were shooting,” laughs Psarra, reminiscing.
“Actually, I still have the target inside my living room. I’m not using it so as much as I did during quarantine, but it helped me a lot to improve my technique. Before, I had to spend a lot of time going to practise, then coming back to the house and then, when I had the time when my kids were at school, I maybe got an hour to shoot as many arrows as I can.”
“Now, I’m working on my technique inside the house with the target and the physical condition of shooting many arrows, then I go out to the 70-metre range to train for the distances I need.”
Psarra’s son, Kharalambos, is 12-and-a-half and recently switched to practising the sport as a hobby, but Maria is on course to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a competitive athlete.
“Maria decided she likes it and for the last years she’s been even more organised than me in the part of training, but Harry (Kharalambos) told me that he doesn’t want to do as much as Maria does and he wants to do it as a hobby,” she says.
“I’m okay with it. They tried a lot of other sports: tennis, volleyball, swimming, everything and I really didn’t push them to archery, but, as I said, it’s a way of life for us. You can see a bow in every room of our house and it’s really something that it's a part of their life.”
There’s a chance that mother and daughter could be in a fight for the same Olympic place in Paris.
“I haven’t thought about that, but every mother’s and father’s wish for their children is to be better than them so I will be really glad if she does qualify,” says Psarra, who will turn 50 just before the Games – which will also mark the 30th of anniversary of her start in archery.
“They’re just numbers,” says Psarra without pause. “But the Olympic Games are something different. Six Olympics. It’s a big number and I realise that but I don’t get frightened by it. It’s not something that keeps me back. It motivates me to do as much as I can: one more.”
“This journey has not ended for me.”