Nespoli’s Tokyo silver his first individual Olympic medal
They were equally deserving of gold.
Mauro Nespoli, the 33-year-old archer from Italy, arrived in the individual men’s final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with two team medals to his name but never one he could exclusively call his own.
The world number seven entering Tokyo, Nespoli defeated Brazil’s Marcus D’Almeida in straight sets in the third round, pulled off a comeback victory in the quarterfinals against Germany’s Florian Unruh, 6-4, and then beat Chinese Taipei’s Tang Chih-Chun, 6-2, in the semis to guarantee his spot on the podium.
With one more victory, Nespoli would become Italy’s second individual Olympic Champion after Marco Galiazzo in 2004.
His opponent, Mete Gazoz of Turkey, qualified 10th in Tokyo and beat a who’s who of veterans on the road to the individual final.
The 22-year-old upset world number one Brady Ellison in the quarterfinals and then London 2012 silver medallist Takaharu Furukawa in the semis. Turkey had never taken a medal of any colour in the archery competitions at the Olympics.
With victory in the final, Gazoz made it gold – and Nespoli took silver.
“I’m really, really happy, and it means a lot to me because I’ve been pursuing these individual measures for, like, 24 years,” said Nespoli. “This really means a lot to me, and I’m really proud of my shots.”
Tokyo was Nespoli’s fourth consecutive Olympics but his first without a team behind him. At the Games in 2012, he helped Italy to first place in the men’s team event – an upgrade on the nation’s second-place finish at Beijing in 2008. Reaching those same heights in individual matches, however, had proved elusive.
Nespoli came close to taking down the younger Gazoz, winning the first set and then reaching a tie in the second to hold a 3-1 lead. But Gazoz came back strong, winning the third and splitting the fourth to extend the competition to a decisive fifth set.
The archer from Turkey, shooting first, hit two 10s with his final three arrows to claim the match. But the loss didn't invalidate Nespoli's journey up to that point.
“Until a few years ago, I felt more comfortable during tournaments of a lower level rather than international competitions,” Nespoli explained recently during a profile for World Archery’s Behind the Bow series.
“As I become more and more experienced, after 23 years of shooting, I have much more incentive to compete in World Cups, world championships and Olympics and respect for international competitions. I’ve often gotten high scores in qualification, but not always been able to repeat them during matches.”
“Probably the tension increases and I’m not so ready to end up winning all of the time,” he continued. “But this is just an incentive – a big incentive to improve and to always search for new challenges when I compete.”
With his performance in Tokyo, Nespoli demonstrated how far he’s come in his career. Combined with Lucilla Boari, who took bronze in the women's individual event, Italy is the third European nation to win a medal in both individual events in archery at a single Olympics, after Finland and the Soviet Union in 1980.
Nespoli also became the third archer from Italy to accrue three Olympic medals, alongside Michele Frangilli (one gold, one silver, one bronze) and Galiazzo (two golds, one silver).
He has always been recognised as one of the best archers on the international circuit.
By delivering on the world’s biggest stage, the experienced Italian has only solidified his place among the best the sport has to offer.
“I’ve reached higher and higher levels and I’m very happy at the way I managed to get this level of concentration,” Nespoli said. “I think I did pretty well, so I just like to say congratulations to myself.”
“This is not a lost gold, it’s a conquered silver.”