Sjef Van Den Berg’s career ends with second-round loss in Tokyo

Sjef van den Berg shoots during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Sjef Van Den Berg has shot his last arrow as an international archer.

The world number 14 lost to Marcus D’Almeida of Brazil on Wednesday at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, ending his pursuit of one last medal in what the Dutchman had already declared the final competition of his career

“It felt like a struggle in the wind,” Sjef said after a turbulent day in the archery arena at Yumenoshima Park. “It’s a really anti-climactic end of my career because this will be the last match I ever shoot on the international circuit, unless something weird happens. But I don’t suspect so.”

Van Den Berg, the fourth-place finisher at Rio 2016, began the day with a first-round victory over reigning Olympic silver medallist Jean-Charles Valladont, 7-3. 

It was an encouraging sign for the eighth seed, who fell short of reaching the podium in the men’s team event when the Netherlands lost to host team Japan in the bronze medal match.

Sjef expressed disappointment after the loss, calling it his best opportunity to win a medal. After falling to D’Almeida in the individual competition, his chances for a medal in Tokyo have run out.

“It’s a bummer, and I feel the headache coming in already,” said Sjef, who suffers from cluster headaches and migraines induced by the stress of competing. “But it’s also a  bit of a relief… I cannot fly home just yet, but I look forward to flying back home for the start of my new life.”

Van Den Berg, 26, took up archery at the age of four and made his international debut in 2010. He spent the majority of his 20s ranked within the top 10 in the world, reaching as high as number two, and won the last-ever World Archery Indoor Championships in 2018.

At his first Olympics in Rio, Sjef fell violently ill before the ranking round but recovered well enough to dispatch a series of opponents to reach the second round. He gained attention for competing after a burst blood vessel, shooting with what he jokingly referred to as an ‘evil eye’, and eventually finished fourth overall.

“I have a lot of things to look back on that I’m really proud of,” he said. “There’s definitely stuff that I’ve done that I think people wouldn’t have deemed possible of me when I was younger. I’ve passed the expectations of some people. But I think most importantly, I've helped bring the team of the Netherlands to a higher level."

With age a negligible factor in archery, Sjef could always return to competition after a few years. Jacob Wukie’s comeback for the USA team this year is evidence that it's possible to regain an Olympic quality even after a lengthy hiatus.

For now, though, he is looking forward to beginning this next chapter of his life.

"I think I’ll still hover around the team, but not in an official function,” he said. “I’ll still consult with people if they need consulting. I’m there for the team. The fact that I won't be shooting for them doesn’t mean that I'm going away.”