Coaches with conflicting emotions after Olympic quota tournament

Goktug Ergin consoles Gulnaz Coskun at the Antalya 2021 European Championships.

While Yasemin Anagoz fielded questions from reporters last Friday at the Antalya 2021 European Championships, her coach, Goktug Ergin, was in mourning.

The Turkish archer had just secured a coveted quota place to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the culmination of an arduous journey that had finally ended in relief, but it came at the expense of her teammate, Gulnaz Coskun, who met Anagaoz in the quarterfinals of a quota tournament in which teams could win just one quota place per gender for their country.

For Ergin, the arrangement was both ideal and heartbreaking.

By drawing each other in the quarterfinals, Turkey was guaranteed the quota place he and his coaching staff desperately craved one phase early. (Other archers had to win their spots in the final four to secure Tokyo tickets.) The joy of Anagoz’s success, though, was matched in equal parts by Coskun’s disappointment.

Ergin’s immediate obligation, he determined, was to console the archer in defeat.

“It’s extremely hard. They are young archers, and they do not have very much experience,” Ergin said.

“I feel that sometimes they don’t think of me as a coach, but as someone from their family to respect. Because of this, we don’t have exactly a normal coach-archer relationship. It isn’t easy to manage that psychology.”

Goktug Ergin embraces Yasemin Anagoz and Gulnaz Coskun at the Antalya 2021 European Championships.

Coaching has always invited comparisons to parenting – but it’s particularly apt for a team as young as Turkey. Ergin estimated his team’s average age to register between 21 and 22 years old, which can lead to erratic behaviour and unpredictable results from his talented athletes. 

His guidance, he has come to realise, can only go so far. His influence as a coach can only affect his archers so much. Just like any parent, the 36-year-old has been forced to trust in his tutelage and hope for the best – stepping back and letting the archers live their own lives on the line – as he observes his athletes shoot from afar.

“It is the biggest difficulty of the coaching job,” Ergin said. “When I was an archer, I thought coaching was easy. They’re just standing up there, looking at the arrows. But now as a coach, they’re standing five metres in front of me. I can’t shoot for them. It’s really challenging.”

Elias Cuesta found himself in a similar situation when two of his archers, Elia Canales and Ines de Velasco, reached the bronze medal match of the same quota tournament, still with only one Olympic bid available for Spain. Conflicted at the prospect of coaching both at the same time, Cuesta elected to observe the match from a distance and send his archers to the finals stage without support so they could battle for the right to fill the newly acquired quota. 

Ines went on to upset Canales, the top seed in the qualification tournament, to book her ticket for Tokyo.

Canales, a favourite to earn a quota place at the beginning of the week, went home with nothing.

Elia Canales and Ines de Velasco embrace after their match at the Antalya 2021 European Championships.

“As their coach, I have the quota, but it’s hard because both of them are my archers,” Cuesta said. “I’m really happy for one of them and really sad for the other. I know how each is feeling right now. There are different kinds of emotions.”

Managing those emotions and filtering them through the prism of coaching, Ergin said, is essential to helping his athletes succeed.

He spent much of last week standing behind Mete Gazoz, the world number two, who had yet to secure his ticket to Tokyo despite his exceptional abilities. 

Gazoz seeded first in the qualification tournament with a score of 668 and won the men’s quota event, but not before qualifying for the Olympics with a straight-set quarterfinal victory over Poland’s Kacper SierakowskiGoktug was the first person to congratulate him, greeting him in a warm embrace after years of uncertainty.

Gazoz and Anagoz will both compete for medals in Tokyo, and Ergin will be there every step of the way, doing everything in his power to help them succeed. 

“It’s very emotional, but in the end, I’m a professional and I just want to win,” Ergin said. “I cannot be their father, but I cannot be their coach only. I need to be something in between.”

There is one last chance for archers to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Three men’s team and three women’s team quotas will be awarded on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 June in Paris – followed by all the remaining individual spots one day later.