Les Bleus: French archery on track for results at 2024 Olympics?

Paris 2024 archery

It was in Minsk in 2019 when, at the end of a European Games at which the French squad hunted fruitlessly for Olympic spots, a deeply frustrated Audrey Adiceom gave WorldArchery.sport one of the sport’s more lyrical quotes:

“I think it’s like when you are in a pizza restaurant, and you are really hungry. You knew what you wanted. You thought this would be so nice. And then you see it, here comes the pizza. You see it. It’s hot, it’s beautiful,” she said.

“But it’s for the table next to you.”

Make no mistake, four years ago French archery was in crisis.

At both of the major tournaments held that year that awarded quota places for the 2020 Olympic Games – the Hyundai World Archery Championships in Den Bosch and those European Games in Minsk – France had left empty-handed.

One of Europe’s major archery nations, the recently-announced hosts of the Games in 2024, still had nobody on the docket for Tokyo.

Audrey Adiceom

For the last few world championships, eight Olympic quota places were available for both the recurve men’s and women’s team events. It meant that squads needed only to win their last-16 matches to book a slot. It was a weirdly charged 45 minutes, sitting in the middle of a long competition week.

(This will change in 2023 when only three tickets per gender are available and teams will need to make the podium.)

Neither of the French squads won their matches.

There was a further test for Adiceom – a secondary tournament for an individual women’s place, in which three of the four athletes competing would be successful. She finished a crushing fourth.

More quotas were available in Minsk but a demoralised French squad did not perform.

After an agonising wait, exacerbated due to the pandemic and the 12-month delay to both qualification events and the Games themselves, France finally won three men’s spots and a single women’s place at the final qualifying tournaments in 2021 – but it would be the surprise European Champion Lisa Barbelin going to Tokyo, not Audrey.

Barbelin’s top-16 finish would be the only individual highlight for France – a nation that remains fourth on archery’s all-time Olympic medal table and has participated in more Olympic archery competitions (across all eras) than any other country.

French women's recurve team in Antalya 2023

There’s no question of quitting.

“We are all here preparing for the Olympic Games and it’s just a question of time,” says Adiceom now.

“I know that I will be there. I just have to wait for my pizza.”

In 2023, the order is in, the oven’s heating up – and Audrey’s perfect pie is very much back in play.

France’s recurve teams both won places at the final qualification event for this year’s European Games, held at the start of April in Lilleshall, while Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Jean-Charles Valladont has seemingly decided that this is the season of his renaissance, rolling back the years to win that event – and following it up with a silver medal at the Hyundai Archery World Cup season opener in Antalya.

Last year saw the French squad take five individual medals on the international circuit across all categories – and Nicolas Girard finish runner-up at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.

France’s compound men’s team made the final at all four stages in 2022, coming second at the first two but winning the third and last in Paris and Medellin, after Girard joined the line-up. The compounds train apart from the Olympic team – but winning makes a difference.

“When one athlete is successful, it undeniably brings success to the whole team,” said a spokesperson for the French federation.

French men's recurve team, Lilleshall 2023

There’s no pressure on France to fight for spots during this Olympic cycle. As the host nation, France automatically receives a full quota of three men and three women for the archery competitions at Paris 2024.

Instead, eligible archers are looking to prove themselves worthy of a place on those squads.

Adiceom is attending at least the first two Hyundai Archery World Cup events in Antalya and Shanghai. She’s very much hoping that she won’t miss out on a second Olympics in a row.

Joined by Barbelin and youth world champion Caroline Lopez, Adiceom and the French women took a podium to open the season, winning bronze. It’s perhaps a – very early – indication that the investment in French sport is producing results. There’s been a significant funding increase and the squad has been fully-funded since September 2022.

“Before, everyone was living a kind of double life, with study or a job,” explains Audrey. “But you have to be really, really focused for the Olympic Games. It has to be 100%.”

“Step by step, we are all just focused, focusing. It’s a lot of archery every day and we are building a good team together – the girls and boys are training every day together to make the result better and better.”

The funding has flooded into management as well. Former Korean head coach Oh Seon Tek was brought in to oversee the programme, which has implemented plenty of imported ideals over the past year, including a new system of trials more in line with that of Korea, with multiple stages well-spaced throughout the preseason.

Oh Son Tek

Benoit Binon, the national technical director, didn’t hide the parallels between the new French approach and that of Korea.

“A first stage allows us to define a group of athletes in August or September to work with all winter. Then, at the beginning of the year, we select the members who will make up the French team for the season,” he said.

Like the Korean system, eight recurve men and women were picked for the winter squad, and there was then a spring tournament to define the A and B teams for the outdoor season.

“This strategy should allow us to put the athletes in a better mental disposition and reduce the uncertainties of selection, making training more efficient,” said Binon.

Adiceom and her French teammates are under no illusion about the spotlight the upcoming Olympic Games are drawing.

“It’s like, everything is bigger,” she says. “We no longer have issues with equipment or anything like that. I am lucky because I have a lot of sponsors who can help me. We can shoot every day with arrows in perfect condition.”

It’s a very materialistic explanation for a simple concept – in the lead-up to its home Games, France is investing in homegrown results.

But what about afterwards? Is France investing in a legacy for the sport?

Les Invalides

The effort from the French archery federation is not purely going into the country’s athletes, but into a wider drive to build a stronger core of officials, volunteers, clubs and venues for the sport.

“Diversity is an important element,” said the federation spokesperson. “As is gender equity. And giving everyone the opportunity to participate.”

Bringing a stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup to the country’s capital for the three years preceding the Games, from 2021 to 2023, was key.

The event taking place this August – the last of the run – will act as the official test event for Paris 2024, with a finals arena being constructed in the Olympic and Paralympic venue at Invalides.

“It was important to tell this story. From Tokyo to Paris, the World Cup is the common thread,” the spokesperson concluded. “We’ve worked with the World Cup to give archery a place in the capital for three seasons. Now, it’s their [the athletes’] turn to finish in style and hand over some unforgettable moments to 2024.”

Archery returns to an iconic location in the centre of an historical city for its Olympic competition in 2024. The event will draw eyeballs from across France and the globe. But for a sport in which medals are not easy to come by – the number is small and there is an undeniable favourite – it’s podiums that really galvanize an audience’s focus.

“I’m making pizza again,” says Adiceom, who seems unable to let go of her rather tasty metaphor. “I’m baking every day from eight-thirty to seven in the afternoon. I can smell it!”

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