How Eric Peters defied the odds to clinch world silver for Canada
Contemporary Canadian recurve archery had been defined on the world stage by the results of one man – Crispin Duenas.
The now-37-year-old part-time athlete, part-time teacher finished third at the world championships in 2013, won the Pan American Games in 2019 and collected four Olympic appearances from 2008 to 2020.
Duenas is no longer Canada’s sole contender.
Enter Eric Peters. A 26-year-old with a striking appearance – nose and earrings, long hair – and the ability to deliver on the world stage, as proven by his individual silver at the 2023 Hyundai World Archery Championships in Berlin.
Peters has been promising results for so long.
A Youth Olympian in Nanjing in 2014, the Ottawa native has flirted with the periphery of the elite for years, banking several top-eight finishes at world events, including a fifth at the Hyundai Archery World Cup stage in Antalya earlier this year.
“I have always known I have had the ability,” he reflected after losing a five-set final to Olympic Champion Mete Gazoz in Berlin. “It was close but it is good, it is more than I expected coming here.”
“It sucks [that I just missed out on gold] but I have a lot to look forward to. I am just as surprised as other people. I don’t know what to feel yet, it’s really cool.”
Peter’s podium potential first came to fruition in 2019.
He joined Duenas in the recurve men’s team event to take gold and beat Brady Ellison, who broke the qualifying world record at that event, in the last eight on his way to taking individual bronze. (He was eliminated by compatriot and eventual champion Crispin Duenas.)
The pandemic hit soon after that tournament – and any momentum that Peters had gained was lost.
Until Berlin – where home hopefuls Maximilian Weckmueller and Florian Unruh were beaten in his two early elimination rounds, after only seeding 36th, before wins over Steve Wijler of the Netherlands and Indonesia’s Arif Pangestu paved a route to the gold medal match.
Defeat eventually came at the hands of Mete Gazoz – in a phenomenal five-set conclusion to competition in Berlin.
But the consolation of a world silver medal, the best individual result for a Canadian recurve archer since Dorothy Lidstone winning in Valley Vorge in 1969, and an Olympic quota spot was plenty good enough against a difficult backdrop.
“We weren’t sure what we were coming in for here, but we have [an Olympic quota place],” he added. “Now we have another 300-odd days to figure out who is going to take it.”
“It has been hard [without a permanent coach] but it doesn’t mean we have been unable to find some success, silver linings and all,” continued Peters.
“It has been great [working with Van der Hoff] but we haven’t had the same structure that we have had over the last couple of years.”
“We have been working really hard and trying to figure it out without full-time coaching but I think we have done something.”
The rocky road to Berlin for Canada’s archers meant an individual medal was not really considered a target – even if it’s a constant aspiration.
Peters admitted there were plenty of nerves ahead of shooting in the finals arena.
Those qualms were quickly alleviated as Peters visibly enjoyed the spectacle of shooting with the eyes of the world watching, in part thanks to spotlight-stealing (and controversial) secret weapon Joe Lesner.
The mental performance coach broke the fourth wall as he entered the arena, screaming ‘I love you Sjef’ loud enough for the on-field microphones to pick up clearly, and causing broadcast analyst Sjef van den Berg – plying his trade from a remote studio some 2000 kilometres away in Scotland – to chuckle.
Lesner continued to whip up the crowd and cheer on his athlete throughout Peters’ three-match campaign on Sunday afternoon in Berlin.
It seemed to dispel any butterflies despite its unorthodoxy in the sport.
“We were having a ball,” revealed Peters. “He was standing behind me all day on Thursday, we had to make a call about who was going to be there today.”
“To be honest I have been really scared the last couple of days, it has been nerve-wracking so I thought if I am going to be there, I really might as well have some fun.”
Lesner’s coaching style helped Peters. But it wasn’t to everyone’s liking. Stern words were had between the Canadian box and Turkish coach Goktug Ergin in the arena following the final.
“He knows how to push the right buttons and get me in the right mood,” continued Peters. “He might not be to everyone’s tastes, I totally understand that, but it was the right call for me.”
“I don’t think I have ever been more relaxed on stage, it was great.”