Jake Kaminski

Through the wind and years

As it is, Olympic-style archery is demanding enough. The rules call for an arrow to fly to a target 70 meters distant. That's roughly three tennis courts laid end to end, as the noted Olympic historian David Wallechinsky points out in his authoritative guide to the Games. The bull's-eye in the center of that target is about the size of a grapefruit.

At the just-concluded world championships in southern Turkey, matters were made all the more challenging by winds that grabbed arrows and directed them here, there, hither, yon, pretty much everywhere. On one particularly windy day,  scores more resembled a good club outing than best-in-the-world.


In this kind of tournament, there were three opponents: The ones wearing the other uniforms. The one inside your head. And the invisible one howling across the field at 10, 20, sometimes more than 40 miles per hour.

It took a special kind of fortitude to win.

In defeating the Dutch last Sunday, 214-211, the U.S. men's recurve team claimed their first world title in 30 years. Recurve is the kind of straightforward bow and arrow set-up that evokes the kind they would have shot on the frontier; compound is a much more complicated contraption.

The gold medal follows a silver won by the U.S. men at the 2012 London Games.

Two of the three who competed in Turkey performed in London as well: Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski. The third, Joe Fanchin, shot the final shot in both the semifinal and final rounds, in both instances securing the victory.

"The worst wind I've personally ever had to shoot in," Fanchin said.

"To win Olympic silver last year and then come back and win world championships gold makes it clear we are here to play," Ellison said, adding, "We are not going away."

France took third, South Korea fourth -- the first time since 1987 the Koreans left the world championships without a medal in the recurve men's team event.

During elimination rounds, the wind was so strong it literally blew arrows off bows.

In a bid to make themselves more stable against the wind, the Colombian women's compound team strapped on weighted backpacks. Apparently it worked; they went on to win gold.

Every single American athlete was knocked out of the individual competition early on.

In the men's recurve team event, the three U.S. guys noticed the Colombian women's compound strategy. But they decided it wasn't worth trying.

Kaminski, who called the windy conditions "outrageously crazy," said, "Nobody could believe we were shooting in this weather."

Cancellation was out of the question, which everyone understood, because of sponsor, logistics and other concerns. So if the show was on, the issue was who was going to be mentally toughest.

There were times, Kaminski said, where -- to make a shot -- he and his teammates would be aiming as much as 15 feet offline. "That," he said delicately, "is a whole lot."

Fanchin said, "You're hoping for a 10," a bull's-eye, "but you'll take a 9, and here an 8 is a great shot. Those first matches, an 8 would be good. We were aiming high left based on where the wind was coming from, trying to hold steady just long enough to execute the shot, just looking for an opportunity, getting up there trying to be really aggressive. You're up there, getting tired, a gust would hit you, you're looking for that split second …"

A perfect score in the team event is 240. To simplify the scoring, it's three guys, eight arrows per guy, a maximum of 10 points per shot. The mechanics of a match don't exactly run like that but that's the max score -- 240.

The world record for 24 arrows is 233, set Oct. 4, 2011, by the Koreans in London.

Some first-round scores in last Thursday's wind: U.S. 169, Australia 160; Korea 170, Britain 168; Ukraine 177, India 172.

"Insane," Ellison said.

The U.S. semifinal match against France came down to Fanchin's last arrow. This is a guy who did not make the Olympic team but who was now being counted on -- in crazy wind -- to be the man.

"It has been a humbling experience learning about myself and archery," Fanchin said about the personal journey he has undertaken since last year, adding a moment later, "I let go of the expectations and I just did the shooting," the U.S. winning by two, 191-189.

In the final, against the Dutch, again he stepped up, the U.S. winning by three.

"We did our best and it worked out," he said. "We were ready to win the matches when they came up, ready to step up and shoot well enough to win."


Clutch shooting: U.S. women London-bound

Walking out to the target during one of Thursday's early matches at a shoot-off in Ogden, Utah, Khatuna Lorig raised her arms and yelled, "I love my team." That's when everyone involved with USA Archery knew this was going to be a good day.

Climaxing a long and excruciatingly complex qualifying process, the full U.S. women's team qualified Thursday for the London 2012 Olympics, just 35 days ahead of the July 27 opening ceremony.

Heading to London: Miranda Leek, Jennifer Nichols, Lorig.

They will be the first U.S. women's archery team to compete at an Olympics since Athens in 2004, testimony to upgraded facilities, more funding and better coaching.

"After two Olympics and 11 years of competitive archery, this was the most pressure I have ever been under," Nichols said late Thursday.

"And we did it."

The U.S. men's team, No. 1-ranked in the world, qualified a year ago: Brady Ellison, Jake Kaminski, Jacob Wukie.

The pressure was on the U.S. women Thursday for two very, very different reasons.

One, archery is on the upswing in the United States, in large measure because of the success of the "Hunger Games" franchise, the book and the movie. It was Lorig who taught Jennifer Lawrence, who stars as Katniss Everdeen in the movie, to shoot a bow and arrow so convincingly.

And yet Lorig and the U.S. women found themselves in a fight to the very last day to make it to the Games.

That's because, two, the process for qualifying for London is, in a word, convoluted.

A little history:

In 2008, the U.S. women qualified two spots. Lorig and Nichols went to Beijing. Neither medaled. Lorig took fifth, best on the team, men or women.

For the 2012 Games, the rules are that countries can send either one athlete or a full team. A full team means three athletes. Not two.

The U.S. women did not qualify for the full team slot at last year's world championships in Torino, Italy. Leek and Lorig, with top-eight finishes, qualified for an individual spot. At the U.S. Olympic Trials, held just a couple weeks ago, Leek won that one individual slot.

So, Leek knew coming to Ogden this week, for what was called the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament, that she was going to London, no matter what. The "FOQT" -- archery's procedural machinations can be very, very complicated -- was held in conjunction with a World Cup event.

The question was whether Lorig and Nichols would go, too.

Lorig is not only a kinda-sorta movie star. She is a 1992 bronze medalist. She has competed in four prior editions of the Games, for the Unified Team, the Republic of Georgia and the United States. She is 38.

Nichols, again, was shooting for her third Games. She is 28.

Leek is 19.

To get an entire team to the Games meant Leek had to put aside whatever she might be feeling about her own self -- after all, her own position was set -- and be selfless.

Leek struggled some in the qualification rounds in Ogden. It was actually Olympic team alternate Heather Koehl who helped move the Americans up in the brackets to a third-place ranking for Thursday's decisive rounds, just behind Japan.

The U.S. women had to win three straight matches to get to London -- against Romania, Belarus and Japan.

And here is where Leek, and the others, came on strong.

The Americans defeated Romania, 213-202.

They beat Belarus, 212-210.

Then, finally, they beat Japan, by six.

There was more shooting Thursday in Ogden but what matters is that three U.S. women are bound for London. And aiming for a medal.

"I feel like we shot really well," Leek said, adding, "We really buckled down. We worked as one today. We got the job done."

Lorig said, "I made a promise to Jennifer Lawrence that I would go to London and she made a promise to me that she would say, 'That's my coach.' You know what -- in archery we," meaning the United States, "have a very strong team. The boys are strong. The girls are doing great.

"Expect the unexpected."