Best moments of the 2023 para archery season

Tereza Brandtlova celebrating W1 mixed team gold with home crowd.

The 14th edition of the World Archery Para Championships in July was the highlight of the 2023 season for para athletes. 

Nearly 300 athletes from 55 countries competed for seventeen world titles across six para categories and 78 quota places for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, as the selection process started.  

One year on from the previous (delayed) para worlds in Dubai and with the Paris Paralympics approaching, new heart-breaking stories have been written in Pilsen, Czech Republic.

Stories that are further proof of how archery changes people’s lives.

Their journey may differ, but the outcome is the same – pure satisfaction.

Here’s our top five of the best moments from Pilsen.

Ziva Lavrinc gave birth to a baby boy one month before Pilsen 2023.

5) Young mother winning Paralympic quota 

Ziva Lavrinc gave a birth to a son, Noah, on 13 June. Just 37 days later, the Slovenian secured a quota for the Paris 2024 Paralympics. And she wasn’t even sure to come to Pilsen shortly before the competition. 

“I booked a hotel with an option to cancel it the day before the arrival,” she said. 

It wasn’t the journey that was the problem, as the baby took it well, but rather mummy’s shooting conditions. 

“The joints in my shoulders and hands are loose, so it’s hard to put them in the right position and stabilise them,” she explained. “Sometimes an arrow flies not where I wanted. It’s still a couple of 1000 of arrows away from that feeling.”

Lavrinc had an accident while mountain biking in 2008 and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Five years later, she gave birth and secured a quota for the Paralympics as a mother.

All the beauty of para archery. 

Matteo Panariello, World Archery Para Championships 2023

4) Maiden world titles in magical city

Visually impaired archer Matteo Panariello claimed Pilsen a “magical city” the day before his final and after his memories from the European Championships in 2018 when he clinched gold

His happiness went out of scale the next day, when he won his maiden world title, the story behind being truly touching.

“I would like to dedicate this medal to my brother, whom I lost two years ago,” said the Italian archer. “He had a dream to see me win a world medal, and now I won it. It’s only for him.”

Fellow countryman Matteo Bonacina also won a maiden gold at his sixth world championships appearance. in Pilsen. He was nervous facing British archer Nathan MacQueen in the gold medal match and dropped his worst shot when an eight was enough to win the match. 

“The last arrow was hard,” he admitted. “When I saw yellow, I just shot.”

It was an eight – and Bonacina’s maiden one.

3) China tops medal table

China dominated the medal table in Pilsen, collecting seven of the 17 gold medals available, for a total of 11 podium finishes, with twelve athletes contributing.

The medal haul followed six world records by Chinese archers. 

A four-time Paralympic medallist, the 33-year-old archer Wu Chunyan completed a hat-trick of titles in the recurve division.

“After Tokyo 2020, I didn’t even start my training,” she explained. “To make such a result after the [three-year] break and so short training – it’s beyond my imagination.”

Wu Yang and Chen Minyi had one gold and one bronze each, while Zhao Lixue left with one gold and one silver.

The nation was also the big winner in the race for Paralympic quota places, securing 11 tickets to Paris, just one short of a full slate.

David Drahoninsky won three medals on home soil.

2) Drahoninsky sets home crowd on fire

The stands in Pilsen filled out on Sunday as the local heroes shot for gold in the W1 mixed team. David Drahoninsky and Tereza Brandtlova could handle the pressure and clearly defeated Italy 145-133 to claim the title.

“Right now, I don’t have any words," said Brandtlova in an emotional live TV interview. “I would like to cry.”

Drahoninsky had tears in his eyes, too.

“That was my dream, and this dream came true,” he said. 

The famous para archer collected two other medals in the recurve division – men’s doubles bronze with Karel Davidek as well as individuel bronze – on the day celebrating and entertaining the crowd in his signature way.

Plenty to get the stands buzzing.

1) Armless archers make history

For the first time in history, three armless archers shot at one competition. And they all made it to the finals arena in Pilsen.

The 2022 Para World Champion Matt Stutzman, known as The Armless Archer, the pioneer and a path-maker for fellow armless archers, came to the field as the first one on compound Saturday. He won bronze with US teammate Kevin Polish, after they posted a new compound men’s doubles team match world record in quarterfinals, four points off perfect with 156 points.

In the individual event, Stutzman had his first loss in 13 years to another armless archer Piotr Van Montagu, who was eventually himself defeated in the bronze medal match.

But it was Sheetal Devi the great revelation as the first and only woman without arms competing at this level. The 16-year-old from India made a stunning debut, losing only in the compound women’s gold medal match, taking silver.

“I never thought I could do archery,” she had said before the competition started.

Devi received some precious help from Stutzman in Pilsen. The American archer, who inspired many other para athletes, gave her a priceless lesson and a piece of advice on bow settings.

“Matt was the first armless archer, and it was the first time I met him,” Sheetal said. “I was very excited.” 

And Stutzman, whose retirement might be coming soon, could call it a mission completed.

“I’ve done really well, but the fact that we have other armless archer is way more important,” he concluded.“ It builds archery.”