‘No one saw it coming’ – Shanny delivers in Olympic debut

Itay Shanny shoots at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Itay Shanny’s performance during qualifying did not necessarily instil confidence in others after placing 60th out of the 64 men in Tokyo on the first day of the archery competitions at the 2020 Olympic Games

The first archer from Israel to appear at an Olympics, Shanny’s 92nd position in the world rankings paled in comparison to his first-round opponent, hometown favourite Hiroki Muto, who had already won a bronze medal in the men’s team event by delivering the deciding arrow in a tiebreak.

Shanny’s resume, by comparison, was far less decorated. Even after insisting that he was in Tokyo to do more than just participate, reaching finals day among a stacked field was still unlikely.

“I think that sort of worked to my advantage,” said Shanny, who overcame the odds to win two matches and place ninth overall in the men’s individual event.

“No one expected me to win,” he continued. “I basically had nothing to worry about. No one saw it coming.”

No one, that is, but Shanny himself, who along with coach Guy Matzkin made Israel’s archery debut at the Olympics a resounding success. 

The 22-year-old shocked the fifth-ranked Muto, cruising to a 7-3 victory over the Japanese marksman, which only helped to bolster the Israeli rookie’s confidence as he faced and defeated Tarundeep Rai from India in a second-round tiebreak. 

Only after a second consecutive shoot-off, this time against Chinese Taipei’s Tang Chih-Chun in the last 16, did Shanny’s surprise run finally come to an end. With the match tied at five sets each and a spot in the quarterfinals on the line, Tang hit the centre, scoring a 10, while Shanny’s arrow landed in the nine.

“I’m so proud of Itay,” said coach Matzkin, who won a quota place for London 2012 but did not compete after the Israeli Olympic Committee declined the spot. “We talked a lot about having the guts to go out there, and how it doesn’t matter which stage it is, which arrow or shoot-off – just go out there and do your normal thing.”

Shanny’s inclusion in Tokyo fit seamlessly with the rest of Israel’s delegation at these Games, which collected its record number of medals at a single Olympics.

The young archer and his teammates watched taekwondo and judo matches from a common area inside the Olympic village, cheering on athletes like Avishag Semberg while screaming at the television.

Later on, following his victories over Muto and Rai, Shanny found himself on the receiving end of similar displays of admiration. 

Among them was Sagi Muki, the three-time world champion in judo, who approached Shanny to congratulate him on his performance – a moment the archer described as particularly validating. 

“These are the people who, when you go to the Olympic team’s Instagram or watch them on the news, those are the faces, those are the names,” Shanny said. “To see them up close, it’s like, ‘whoa, that’s pretty dope’.”

Itay Shanny and Guy Matzkin take a moment to talk during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Shanny expressed similar enthusiasm for seeing the world’s best archers congregated in one place, though he made a point of saying he made sure he didn’t act too much of a fan when meeting them. 

These were still his opponents, he explained. Shanny’s presence may not have attracted as many interview requests as other, more accomplished archers. But his occupation of one of the coveted spots on finals day signalled his ascension to a new tier of athlete.

“Looking at the bracket,” Shanny said, “and just generally down the shooting line, there are some big names – either big names or people who I’ve talked to over the years and saw during competitions – and some of them were shooting with me in the one-eighth finals, and some of them didn’t make it.”

“It gives me a sense of, like, ‘I’m with the big boys now’, you know? This is it. I’m here.”

For an athlete who has struggled with confidence issues at various parts of his career, Shanny’s performance in Tokyo has provided tangible evidence of his merits as an athlete. He will forever be an Olympian – the first archer to compete at a Games from Israel. 

The attention, he admitted, has been, at times, unnerving. But it’s also a reminder of his worth, both on and off the shooting line. 

“I came here to do my job: I go up to the line and I shoot sticks at a target,” Shanny said. “But the implications of it are so much bigger. I’ve gotten so many messages from people saying they’re following me and cheering me on.”

“Of course it means a lot to me,” he added. “But it means so much more to so many other people. I think that’s just a really special feeling. It’s something you rarely get to experience.”