France among frustrated nations leaving European Games without Olympic quota

One of Europe’s major archery nations left the Minsk 2019 European Games still without a qualified spot at next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

France is third on the all-time medal list for archery at the Olympics with 25 in total, just behind the United States and Korea. At least one French archer has competed at every Games since 1984.

The French recurve men had an impressive victory in the team event in Minsk – but it was only the individual and mixed team competitions that had Olympic spots on offer.

Pierre Plihon qualified second individually. He had a disastrous clash with hometown hero Pavel Dalidovich of Belarus, losing his first match, 6-4.

“[Pierre] was really upset, because it was a close match. I saw him, I hugged him, and said, ‘good luck for the next one’,” said Audrey Adiceom. “In the mixed team, he was there for me afterwards. He said: ‘I know you can be sad, but I am here if you need me’.”

“I think it’s really beautiful because archery is an individual sport. But it’s more than that. It’s cool, it’s great, I want to have a great career, but now I also have great friends. They are supporting me and I want to support them.”

Twenty-two-year-old Adiceom was the sole French recurve woman at these European Games.

She was tasked with trying to win an individual quota place – or as part of the mixed team. A frustrating pairs performance saw her shoot a miss and she finished ninth in the individual event where only one Olympic spot was available.

“I wanted to stay focused with each arrow, even if I was shaking. With all the determination I could have,” she said. Audrey lost to eventual winner Tatiana Andreoli of Italy in the third round.

“We have to think about the Olympics, clearly. But when you have your goal, you focus on how you will achieve it. The mixed team, I think it’s like 10 minutes of my life that I will have to forget,” said Adiceom.

“I wanted to say something, but I just don’t know what happened. It was 10 minutes of my life when I was really bad, but it doesn’t mean I’m a bad archer.”

The last French man left in the draw was the silver medallist at the last Olympic Games, Jean-Charles Valladont. Only recently did he recover from a shoulder injury that left him on the sidelines of the international elite after spectacular seasons in 2016 and 2017.

In difficult, rainy conditions, Valladont lost to Mauro Nespoli. Nespoli would go on to win the event.

Rising competition standards across the world mean that an Olympic spot can never be taken for granted – no matter an archer or team’s pedigree at the Games. Nevertheless, the failure to qualify team places at the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championships was seen as a disaster for the French squad.

“You know we say something in France. The word ‘cheh’. That’s what I say about last week,” said Adiceom. (It broadly translates like an extremely sarcastic, ‘oh, well done’.)

Several other high-profile recurve teams, including Turkey, are also without a single space for Tokyo.

Mete Gazoz was tight-lipped about the situation in Minsk.

“There is nothing much to say. We didn’t shoot well and lost,” he said, after failing to make the last eight and losing his chance at an Olympic spot. “I will try to work harder than this year and I will focus to get a medal in the Olympic Games.”

The next chance for European archers to qualify for the Olympic Games is on Mete’s home soil at the 2020 European Championships in Antalya, Turkey – where there are four men’s and four women’s spots available.

Then it’s only the final qualification tournament, which will be held at the third stage of the 2020 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Berlin, Germany. That event will award quotas to three teams in each gender – and at least one individual.

Adiceom was lyrical about the situation.

“I have the perfect analogy. I think it’s like when you are in a pizza restaurant, and you are really hungry. You knew what you wanted. You thought this would be so nice. And then you see it, here comes the pizza. You see it. It’s hot, it’s beautiful. But it’s for the table next to you,” she said.

“It’s the same for me. We were four [archers] for three places in Den Bosch, and I thought it could be for me. I really think I did my best in the two matches. But it’s like this pizza. It would have been really great to have it last week.”

Adiceom was one of the four athletes that shot for three women’s places in the secondary tournament at the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championships. Maja Jager of Denmark, Christine Bjerendal of Sweden and Alejandra Valencia of Mexico secured quotas. Audrey missed out.

“We are all here preparing for the Olympic Games and it’s just a question of time,” she said. “I know that I will be there. I just have to wait for my pizza.”

The archery competitions at the 2019 European Games took place on 21-27 June in Minsk, Belarus.