Clock is ticking as chances to win Olympic archery quota places dwindle

Taru Kuoppa shoots at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Taru Kuoppa, the veteran recurve woman from Finland, wasn’t the most obvious candidate to secure an Olympic quota place at the final world qualification tournament in 2016.

Kuoppa quit the sport in 2004, citing struggles with motivation, but she returned nine years later to win three straight matches in Antalya and gain a precious single invitation to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for her country.

Five years later, Kuoppa finds herself back on that range in Turkey facing a slightly altered predicament. No longer an outsider to Olympic considerations, Kuoppa has the added weight of expectations to account for as she competes for one of the four women’s quota places available at the 2021 European Championships.

“It definitely helped me when nobody expected anything,” Kuoppa said. “I very clearly remember that feeling. I didn’t hesitate at all or have any doubts about myself or my shooting.”

With eight tickets for Tokyo 2020 available at these championships – four for men and four for women – who stands the best chance of claiming the coveted few quota places remaining is ultimately a matter of perspective.

Kuoppa has past performances to live up to, but they can also serve as a source of confidence in the face of uncertainty. 

“Turkey has always been good to me. I feel comfortable here because so many competitions have gone well,” Kuoppa said. “That boosts my confidence. Though it’s tough, I can do it – because I’ve done it before.”

Jean-Charles Valladont shoots at the first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Guatemala City.

Other archers prefer to leave previous accomplishments in the past. Particularly in the men’s event, in which 85 archers from 33 countries are fighting for just four quota places, there are plenty of names among them who would be seen as significant absentees if they didn’t end up qualifying.

Evoking recent history, for many of them, can be distracting. 

“As soon as you start a new competition, everything is zero,” said Olympic silver medallist Jean-Charles Valladont, who has yet to book his ticket to Tokyo. “You have to start over all the time. That’s the beauty of the sport. You have to fight for every single arrow.”

Valladont insisted that his silver medal hasn’t applied any additional pressure to return to the Olympics, but it isn’t difficult to imagine that being the case.

Germany, the recurve men’s team gold medallists from the second stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Lausanne, doesn’t have a quota, and neither does Russia – despite a stable of competitive athletes in the category.

World number two Mete Gazoz is also without a quota place, looking to book his ticket on home soil

“A lot of really good archers, a lot of really high-ranked archers, will not be able to shoot in the Olympics,” Turkish coach Goktug Ergin said.

Madalina Amaistroaie shoots at the first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Guatemala City.

And then there’s Romania’s Madalina Amaistroaie, fresh off a final four appearance at the opening stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup, who appears committed to remaining out of the spotlight for as long as possible.

“I guess it’s important,” Amaistroaie said of this week’s quota implications, “but even if I don’t qualify, it doesn’t really matter. My goal is to shoot well and to gain experience. I have all the time in the world to make the Olympics.”

No Romanian had finished higher than 17th in a stage of the international circuit before Guatemala City, and Amaistroaie nearly became the country’s first medallist on the world stage, eventually finishing fourth.

A Romanian woman hasn’t competed in the archery events at the Olympic Games since 1980 – and has never qualified – a piece of information the 18-year-old is aware of but is doing her best to ignore.

Her focus, just as it was in Guatemala City, is simply on shooting well. If she can do that, she said, everything else will fall into place. 

“With every competition this year, I’ve gained more experience for this moment,” Amaistroaie said. “I feel more prepared now, which is really exciting. It gives me confidence to shoot without pressure.”

The European continental qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020 takes place on Friday in Antalya.