Two-time champion Pagni primed for circuit return after lengthy break

Sergio Pagni shoots during practice at the second stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in 2021.

It was back in September 2019, at the most recent circuit final in Moscow, when Sergio Pagni last drew his bow in Hyundai Archery World Cup competition.

The two-time champion of the tour shot a few smaller events at the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic interrupted the whole schedule. One of just a handful of athletes who have been to more than 50 stages over the last 15 years, the 42-year-old Italian feels like somewhat part of the landscape, no matter where in the world the competition is being held.

“My feelings are really good. I missed that world of archery. I live for archery because I work as a coach. I have done it for the last two years. I missed tournaments. In Italy, we didn't have them last year. Now they are back but competing in a national tournament isn’t the same,” he said.

Sergio won the Archery World Cup Finals back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 during a period of transition for the sport. The compound competition format switched from 70 to 50 metres and the head-to-head was trialled. 

He’s one of the most respected athletes on the field and well capable of doing damage in any bracket – as long as the conditions hold.

“The weather is strange, so I don’t want to make any predictions. However, I shoot good, I have consistency on the target, so I will just wait and see. I know everyone on the shooting line, even if some are brand new. My feelings are good,” Pagni said.

“If the rain is like today, very thin and very soft, there won’t be a big problem. But when it starts raining hard, it gets worse. It’s like when you shuffle your cards and have to wait and see whether you are a liar or not.”

We’re not quite sure who’s bluffing just yet – Pagni being okay with the rain or the few rays of sunshine that shone through the clouds at the end of the practice session. (We hope the latter is a genuine indication of what’s in store for the rest of the week.)

Sergio is a long-time coach, having worked with athletes at home and abroad in countries like India.

Former circuit champion Marcella Tonioli, who’s also on the Italian team in Lausanne, is one of his students. (If that word applies.)

“I teach everyone to compete by themselves. I was never behind my athletes at the competition. Marcella won the World Cup. I have been coaching her for eight years but it was her husband that stood behind her. And I looked at the match from the stage. My method teaches an athlete to shoot for herself or himself,” he said. “I put my experience into the hands of the athletes that I coach.”

If you could pick anybody from whom to take experience, there aren’t many better choices than Sergio.

But in Lausanne, he remains a competitor first and foremost.

“When I shoot against them, I’m just on the opposite side. They know to compete by themselves.”

Sergio has built a life off the back of his competitive success. He’s probably unique on the field in that he’s maintained his position as an elite athlete – and, make no mistake, he remains elite – while transitioning into his coaching career.

Both aspects were disrupted by the pandemic.

“I am ready. And I was also ready last year, but there was no competition,” he said, explaining that his parents live next door and their family took the lockdowns very seriously. “Last year was pretty scary. But now, my parents received the vaccine, so it's easier for us to go outside. I'm not sure if we will go back to the previous situation, but here we can smell the normal world.”

Competition starts with qualification on Tuesday in Lausanne.