Lopez returns for third World Games but has eyes on mixed team prize
This year’s edition, which gets underway on Friday in the southern US city of Birmingham this week, also provides the reigning World Archery Champion with a rare chance to win something new.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how we can do in the mixed team event because we haven’t won anything in it at the World Games,” says Lopez after boarding a plane to the USA, fresh from a triple gold performance at the Bolivarian Games, which included a mixed team gold with partner Daniel Munoz.
“I just want to do a good job for Danny,” adds Sara about her expectations for the USA. The pair are, of course, also the current compound doubles world champions. “If I do a good job in individual that would be great, amazing, but I just want to focus on mixed team.”
“Just being there and qualifying for the third one is a win for me, just a huge achievement. Not everyone can say they went to three World Games in a row. It shows that I did a great job in the last editions of the games.”
“I don’t feel any pressure at all because this is my third one,” she says in response to whether she feels more attention as the reigning champion.
“My main goal is to keep my scores, have fun and see if that brings me a medal. I want to do my job and see what can happen. I’m really excited to be there and represent my country.”
The list of competitors standing in the way of Lopez reads as a who’s-who of the best compound women in the world at the moment: Amanda Mlinaric, Tanja Gellenthien, Ella Gibson, Jyothi Surekha Vennam, Andrea Becerra and Toja Ellison, who hasn’t been seen much internationally in 2022.
“Tanja, Ella, Andrea, Toja,” says Lopez, running down the list. (She also mentioned Alejandra Usquiano, too – but her teammate was apparently unable to get a US visa in time to travel.) “I feel really happy to see that the level is growing as there was a time when I was the only one shooting over 700 and it was really difficult because I wanted to be as good as the men."
“Seeing everyone shooting great now – Ella is shooting incredible scores, she’s getting closer to the world record – it shows that the women are getting really strong. It shows the companies, the sponsors, everyone, that they [should] show a bit more attention to us and that we deserve more; more sponsors, payments and attention. It’s great because this level of competition makes us all grow, work harder and push our level together,” continues Sara.
“I don’t want to say the world ranking doesn’t mean anything to me, but it’s not that important because I know I don’t have the same opportunities as the rest of the athletes to go to all the World Cup stages, the European Championships and everything that gets a lot of ranking points,” says Sara.
“I will keep looking at my historical achievements and all the things that I am still waiting and wanting to do. I will focus on that and let that talk for me and not just the number, the world ranking is just a number.”
This run of events is intense and Lopez needs to recover fast from the Bolivarian Games, especially as she suffered from heat stroke there, but reckons the event helped her almost entirely banish her much-discussed target panic from Guatemala in 2021.
“I’m winning the battle right now,” she says. “Valledupar gave me a lot of confidence to keep working and to keep aiming for more goals in the rest of the events that we have this year.”
Those events start with Alabama in a few days, but the World Games are not just another event, they were the starting point for Lopez on her record-breaking career. And they have an emotional, special place in the heart of the 27-year-old.
“My first Games in 2013 I was really new in the team and only 17 years old,” says Lopez about that event – which was held on home soil in the city of Cali. “Before, I was not even close to even being in the top five in Colombia, but I got the news that Colombia had two spots for the World Games so I said to myself, ‘I want one of those and I need to work really hard to get one’.”
“I got to travel to Antalya because it was part of the preparation for the World Games and that’s where I won my first World Cup stage. That’s when my life, and family’s life, completely changed.”
“At the time I didn’t really know the importance and the honour of being at the World Games so I took that competition as a big opportunity and that’s why I did a good job there.”
Lopez won bronze in 2013, only losing to eventual winner Erika Jones in a semifinal tiebreak. Just over a year later, Lopez would beat Jones in the final of the 2014 Archery World Cup Final in Lausanne – signalling the passing of the baton from one dominant compound woman to the next.
And the following World Games in 2017, where Lopez won individual gold, would have a far-reaching significance.
“I was going through a lot as my grandmother got really sick while I was in Poland,” explains Lopez.
“I wanted to win gold for her and bring her the medal, but when I got back to Colombia she wasn’t the same, she had some complications and wasn’t ‘there’, so I connect Wroclaw with ‘losing’ my grandmother, even though she was alive. It was really hard for our family.”
“So the World Games will always bring me those memories,” she continues. “First when I decided I wanted to be a professional archer and second when I decided I wanted to keep winning to make my grandmother proud.”
Ever the competitor, Lopez is ready for the tournament ahead, of course. But having already made her mark on the sport she fell in love with, the Colombian archery legend has softened her focus on solely winning, in favour of soaking up the experiences she’s fortunate enough to be living.
“Travelling with the rest of a team as a whole nation and being able to hang out with people from other sports is really great,” she says, reflecting on these back-to-back multisport events. “We can always learn from them. I know people from bowling, there’s actually a girl from my same hometown going. It’s great because we are representing not just our sport, but our own cities, our local teams.”
“In Valledupar, we were just walking around and people were screaming ‘Colombia’ at us. That gives you a lot of energy to go to the event and win.”