World Games marks New Zealand’s return to world archery arena

New Zealand's Lisa Walker at the 2022 World Games

A look at the entry lists of the Hyundai Archery World Cup stages in 2021 and 2022, last year’s world championships or any other international since the pandemic shows a long list of archers from every continent and corner of the globe.

But you won’t find any archer from New Zealand.

You would have to go back to 2019 for the last time anybody from the nation has competed because, since then, New Zealand’s borders have been mostly closed and no archer has attended a major event.

That finally changed this week in Birmingham as Elizabeth Randle, Riku van Tonder and Lisa Walker made the 13,000-kilometer journey from the country’s capital of Wellington to shoot in the compound events at the 2022 World Games in the USA.

“It was a feeling like we had come home after so long away,” said Randle. “Standing amongst the best of the best, we all had the feeling like we belong.”

Belonging. A key component in any walk of life, especially in sport.

“To be a part of a multi-sport event with a larger New Zealand team than we usually travel with makes me realise just how much we are punching above our weight for a small country, a country that is, as our prime minister says, ‘a team of just five million’,” explains team manager Cushla Matheson.

“After nearly three years of being locked away from the world this has been an extraordinary event to return to.”

Riku van Tonder of New Zealand at the 2022 World Games

In competition, Randle performed well, seeding eighth in qualification with 699, beating her own New Zealand national record of 697 points by two.

She pushed Great Britain’s world number two Ella Gibson into the ninth spot in qualification, with one more 10 recorded (53 to 52). This meant a first-round bye, with Randle then meeting Gibson in the eliminations.

Her British opponent ultimately took it, 148-143.

“Ella is having an incredible year,” said Randle. Gibson has won two stages of the Hyundai Archery World Cup this year. “I was a little nervous going into the match against her but it was an amazing opportunity to compete against such a high-level archer.”

Walker seeded 22nd and went out to El Salvador’s Sofia Paiz (146-134), while van Tonder led Braden Gellenthien until the third end when the US archer closed with two 30s and a 29 to win, 146-143.

Randle and Riku then combined for the compound mixed team event, where they lost out to eventual bronze medallists India by just one point (156-155).

“I have learnt many things from my first World Games experience,” said 26-year-old Randle, starting her long journey home to her base in Australia. “This has been my first international event back since COVID started. I wasn’t expecting to shoot a new personal best and break a national record in the conditions we experienced.”

“After each international event, I always go home with a list to work on in the hope of coming back stronger technically and mentally at the next event,” she continued.

Those conditions saw temperatures soar to over 40 degrees Celsius at times, with a thunder and lightning storm delaying compound elimination for over two hours.

But that only added to the experience for the Oceanian archers in North America.

“The World Games saw new friendships with athletes from other sports and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends in the archery community,” said van Tonder.

“It was great to enjoy the camaraderie between the other high-performance athletes who understand the journey, the determination and, at times, the sacrifice it takes to perform at events at this level,” added Walker. “It makes us proud to be from New Zealand and represent our country at the event.”

Randle agreed with her teammate. 

“It is always a huge honour to be a part of team New Zealand,” she said. “It’s an experience being involved in multisport events. We don’t have very many of these opportunities so it’s always exciting to meet athletes from a wide variety of sports.”

Elizabeth Randle of New Zealand at the 2022 World Games

Team manager Matheson is also the World Archery development agent in Oceania and understood just how important it was to get back out on the road again.

“As a collection of island nations from the bottom of the world, I was a very proud coach seeing our athletes stand side-by-side with the best of the best in our sport and absolutely hold their own,” she said.

“It is only by competing at these events that we can really understand what is required to further develop the talents of our archers to enable them to be truly internationally competitive.”

“Archery in Oceania is a growing sport and the team is always working to improve and provide for the sport in the area,” added Randle. “It has been a great opportunity to represent our small continent.”

Matheson not only represented her country and continent in Alabama, but the sport of archery, too. She was chosen to deliver the coaches’ oath at the World Games opening ceremony last week.

“It was truly an honour to represent New Zealand, to represent archery and all the coaches present, in particular, as a female coach,” said Matheson about her moment in the spotlight.

“The words of the coaches oath felt like they were my own as they reflect all of my beliefs and aspirations for our sport.”

Those words?

“In the name of all coaches, we promise to take part in the 11th edition of the World Games respecting and abiding by the rules and in the spirit of fair play, inclusion and equality.”

“Together we stand in solidarity and commit ourselves to sport without doping, without cheating, without any form of discrimination. We do this for the honour of our country and respect for the fundamental principles of sport.”