Sarah Prieels’ resilience on display in Yankton

Sarah Prieels has taken her time reaching the elite eight of the Yankton 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships

The compound woman from Belgium fell victim to the wind at the start of qualifications, finding herself far in the distance from the top seed through her first 36 arrows, but then recovered by shooting the second-best mark of any woman in the second half to reach eighth and earn an automatic pass into the third round.

Her comeback traces a path resembling her entire career, she said. Prieels, at 31 years old, has shot competitively for 16 years – more than half of her life – but only recently reached a level where she considered herself in conversation with the top archers in the world. 

The shift aligned with a coaching change in 2015, when Prieels began working with a coach who wasn’t her father. She soon after won the European indoor championships in 2015, followed by the European outdoor the very next year. 

Contention for the podium became a regularity. It was the breakthrough she had been looking for her entire career. 

“We changed some things about my technique, but I think it was just having someone else who believed in me,” Prieels said. “You know, having someone outside of your family going, ‘you can do this, you could be very good at it’, I think that helped a lot.”

“Archery is mostly a mental game,” Prieels continued. “Everybody at this level can pull a bow and shoot an arrow. It’s just whether or not you can keep it together.”

Sarah Prieels shoots at the Yankton 2021 Hyundai World Archery Championships.

Prieels demonstrated her mental fortitude following her first foray into match-play on Wednesday, when she bungled her technique to hit a mystifying seven with her opening arrow of the morning. 

But rather than lament the error, Prieels once again rebounded from her poor start, landing consecutive 10s with her next five arrows to keep herself in the match. 

“It was freeing, I think,” said Prieels, who won in a shoot-off later in the day to reach the elite eight. “A start like that, it can either kill you or make you stronger, and this time it made me stronger.”

Prieels will have only so much room for error on finals day on Saturday. Her first match of the elite eight is against top seed Sara Lopez, widely considered the best compound woman in the history of the sport, who despite her prolific resume has somehow not yet won a world title.

As badly as Prieels wants to reach the medal stand, the stakes are even higher for Lopez. 

Yet while the Colombian won’t go down easily, neither will Prieels. The Belgian has shown nothing but resilience during her career. A run of victories this weekend would only be a continuation of the tournament she’s had thus far.

“We’re all coming to win,” Prieels said. “You do doubt yourself quite a bit at times, but I know I have at least one more match where I can do better and prove to myself that actually, yes, I can shoot matches, and then just go from there.”

The compound competition concludes on Saturday at the world championships.