Areneo makes Malawi’s Olympic archery arena debut

Twenty-one year-old Areneo David came all the way from Malawi to compete at the Olympics in Rio.

He received one of six archery Tripartite invitations awarded by the International Olympic Committee to small or developing countries, and has been coached by Sally Park, a Korea Olympian who competed at the Games in Los Angeles in 1984.

Before Rio, Areneo took a crash course in international competition.

He was one of two Malawian archers to compete at the Archery World Cup stage in Antalya in 2015, and subsequently attended the World Archery Championships the same year, and two Hyundai Archery World Cup stages in 2016.

“Here [Rio] is totally different from Malawi, my country. Here, I practice with many targets, but in Malawi, we only have one. It’s different,” he said.

In Gumulira Village, a poor area in one of the least-developed countries in the world, Areneo, coach Sally and his teammates build their own targets out of tobacco plant stems. At the Games, targets are made of modern foam.

For the 72-arrow qualification ranking round, Areneo shot 603 points out of a possible 720. He seeded 62nd, and had to shoot against third seed David Pasqualucci from Italy in the first round. 

Areneo lost the match, 6-0 – but the result, both he and coach Sally said, didn’t matter.

“I did well at these Games because even when I lost, I enjoyed and smiled. Maybe this was not my time, next time I’ll do better than today,” Areneo said. “I felt good [against Pasqualucci] because I didn’t have any problem. I just shot every single arrow.”

Shooting every single arrow, said Sally, was their goal.

Areneo was not used to shoot at a distance of 70-metres as often at the other archers competing in Rio due to limited facilities in Malawi.

“During the ranking round, we tried it and we prayed for him to shoot well, and he did it. It was very nice. Then, here [on the matchplay field], we said: ‘Okay, let’s do this’. But everything is very quick, so I though: ‘If he miss one arrow, what can we do?’ He didn’t, so I’m very pleased,” said Sally.

With his characteristic humbleness and permanent smile on display throughout our interview, Areneo stopped, turned to his coach and said:

“Coach helped me with everything, so I can say: ‘thank you coach’. We came here without any problem, I didn’t get sick, neither did you. Next time I think I can do better than this, but I must practice more.”

The relationship between this coach and athlete goes beyond sport.

“If I get the chance, I will go the Olympics again. I need to train more. We don’t have enough materials, but I can try,” said Areneo.

And he has already started to tell his teammates what it takes to become an Olympian.

“I explained to them that the Olympic Games are not easy because you must train more. Shooting one hour a day is not enough. Even if I shoot more in the morning and the afternoon, it’s not enough,” he said.

“We only have one target, so it’s difficult. Sometimes we collect stems to make them and the arrows break. I see that here the targets are very nice and that when I shoot, there’s no problems with the arrows.”

The Olympic Games and Areneo’s home town are worlds apart – yet, during Rio 2016, closer than ever. Malawi is new to the Olympic archery world – and Areneo, and Sally, have begun something life-changing:

“Archery is happiness for my future.”

The women’s individual finals take place on 11 August and the men’s individual finals on 12 August at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.