Estonia’s most successful Olympic archer – Parnat – on the road to Paris
Archery is really not a big sport in Estonia.
The Baltic country has a population of just over a million people – and a community of archers of around 1000, across all bowstyles, disciplines and ages. Of those, only around 50 people shoot recurve…
…which makes it all the more remarkable that Estonia has sent an archer to each of the last three Olympic Games.
Reena Parnat competed at both London 2012 and Tokyo 2020. At Rio 2016, it was Laura Nurmsalu who represented Estonia, having also flown the country flag in both the previous European Games (2015 and 2019).
Prior to that, Raul Kivilo competed at the Olympics in 1992 and 1996 – the former being the first to which Estonia had sent a delegation as an independent country since 1936.
Of Estonia’s three Olympic archers, only one has won a match at the Games.
Parnat trod new ground for the country in Tokyo, beating Denisa Barankova in an upset to make the last 32 – a rather large step forward when you consider the athletic resource behind her campaign – where she would ultimately fall to Chinese Taipei’s Lin Chia-En.
Competing at her first European Games this week, Parnat was once again attempting to qualify for the Olympics, potentially her third.
“I felt that it’s quite an important competition for me – something different. But then [when] I arrived here, I didn’t feel so much pressure anymore. When I got here and saw all the archers I knew, it just felt normal,” she said.
“We don’t usually have multisport competitions here. So I guess that's why I felt it’s also a little bit special, like a little Olympic Games here just in Europe. It’s definitely something different.”
Parnat’s campaign ended fast. She lost her first-round match to Poland’s Natalia Lesniak.
Only the individual champion and runner-up this week in Krakow will join Spain’s mixed team as early qualifiers for Paris 2024. There are more chances to book quotas on the horizon – next at August’s Hyundai World Archery Championships in Berlin, then the European Championships and final qualifiers early in 2024.
There’s a feeling of constant striving – for that one more match win.
It’s in strong contrast to what Estonian archery has become renowned for in recent years.
Lisell Jaatma and her brother Robin have both taken medals in numerous international tournaments – including earlier this week, when they took compound mixed team gold here at the European Games, another major crown to go along with the Summer University Games trophy won back in 2019.
Lisell has won the Sud de France Tournament in Nimes three times in the last four years.
Both Jaatmas were trained by their mother, Maarika, who is almost single-handedly responsible for much of the country’s compound success, having also coached other breakout Estonian compounders like Meeri-Marita Paas. And all these accolades have come in the last five years.
Recurve archery is somewhat in the background in Estonia.
“It’s actually a good thing. We don't have many recurve archers in Estonia. We also don’t have so many compound archers, but our compound archers are really good at the world level,” said Parnat.
“It’s a bit tougher for recurve but I think it's really good for other Estonian shooters and athletes, because they are showing how to shoot, how to win competitions, and that lifts us all up. When you see other people doing really great, you have more hope. It’s a good thing.”
The success of the Jaatmas has seen a rise in the number of archers in Estonia – although it’s a long way from ubiquitous.
Shooting outdoors for a lot of the year is a tough prospect. The temperature in the country doesn’t usually get above freezing for four months of the year and can often hit minus-20 degrees Celsius or even colder in January and February.
Indoors is… popular.
That’s not overly convenient for a discipline of the sport that requires 70 metres, and the ability to compete in outdoor environments. It’s probably why Parnat bases herself in a residency programme at the World Archery Excellence Centre for much of the year.
Olympic qualification, as she knows, is a long, long road.
“If I don’t finish here in the top three,” it’s okay, she said. A podium isn’t necessarily a spot, either. “We have a lot of chances. More this year, and more next year.”
Persistence often pays off. Estonia has a streak of three straight appearances at the Olympic Games. And a match win to build on.
Of course, there is also the possibility of compound becoming part of the programme for the subsequent edition in Los Angeles in 2028. And then it may even be that one of the smallest nations by archery Olympians – ever – becomes a medallist one day soon.