Belgian armless ace Van Montagu sets sights on Paralympics in Paris
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Piotr Van Montagu spent more than a decade competing at the highest level in wheelchair football – but now he has his sights set on a first Paralympic medal in a different sport.
The 34-year-old only arrived on the international archery scene in 2019 but has since shot up to number three in the world in the compound men’s category, cracking the 700-club earlier this year.
That is impressive in itself, but even more so when you consider that Van Montagu is one of just two men currently on the circuit, and three archers in all, who compete despite having no arms.
So although there was some disappointment for Van Montagu as he narrowly missed out on a medal at the recent World Archery Para Championships in Pilsen, there is also immense pride for what he has already achieved in the sport.
“As a competitor, when you finish just off the podium, it’s a bit annoying but overall, it was a really good result,” said Van Montagu, who lost the bronze medal match to Jonathon Milne but clinched a quota place for the Paris 2024 Paralympics for Belgium.
Seeded second after qualifying in the Czech Republic, Van Montagu only needed to get past his first match – the third round – to get the Paralympic quota.
The US archer, who featured in the International Paralympic Committee’s Netflix movie Rising Phoenix, had not lost to another armless archer in 13 years, but Van Montagu got the better of him this time.
“I had a little bit of revenge to take after the world championships in Dubai last year, where I made the big mistake of shooting his target and lost the match because of that,” explained Van Montagu.
“I had to get him back for that because I had a chance to beat him last year. So there is a little rivalry, but a friendly one.”
The two archers send each other messages during the year to see how they are getting on and also give each other some advice as they shoot in the same classification.
“I have a little more difficulty than him because he has a support on the ground, which I do not,” added Piotr. “So even between the two of us, there is a difference.”
Stutzman also had a big role to play in Van Montagu trying the sport.
While he had always been drawn to archery, it was only by watching the US trailblazer that he realised that it might be possible to compete.
“I got in touch with the Handisport League in Belgium to do archery, I wanted to do it but I wasn’t sure if it was possible,” said Van Montagu, who was a big fan of Legolas in the Lord of the Rings saga and the television series Arrow.
At the time, he had seen videos of the Armless Archer, but when he found a club, he needed a prosthetist to help see how he could shoot.
“Matt has little arms, I don’t have anything. It’s smooth on my shoulders, so I couldn’t use the same strapping he does. We had to find another technique. It took nearly three years,” he said.
Van Montagu had spent the previous decade excelling in wheelchair football, competing in world and European Championships until a decision had to be made on where to place his focus.
“Until I have managed to get 720 out of 720 or become Paralympic Champion,” he said. “There will always be room for improvement.”