Best of 2016: The archers of the year
In a season dominated by the Olympic and Paralympic Games, international archery athletes also took to the field for the 11th edition of the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit, the Indoor Archery World Cup and World Archery Championships in indoor and field disciplines.
This is not a ranking by medal count, nor by number of records broken – but of those archers that, throughout the year of 2016, stood out as simply exceptional.
(Disclaimer: the official Athlete of the Year trophies are awarded by a public poll and an expert panel that votes ahead of the World Archery Gala in February. The public poll closes at midnight CET on 31 December 2016. This is a non-official and subjective list.)
It could only really be Brady, who might just look back on 2016 as his greatest year ever. He started the outdoor season by posting the third-highest score in history with a 697 at the Shanghai Hyundai Archery World Cup stage, then won the mixed team final at the same event. Barely a few days later in Medellin, he won his recurve men’s stage gold on the circuit in a number of years, beating Ku Bonchan in a shoot-off along the way.
Pausing only in April, he got married to Toja Ellison (née Cerne), and by the time Rio rolled round, Ellison was in top form. He left Brazil with a second team silver in a row and then individual bronze to give the USA its best haul since Sydney 2000.
A few weeks later he took a record fourth Hyundai Archery World Cup Final victory in Odense in Denmark, and maintain his unbeaten record as the only recurve man to win the Longines Prize for Precision – and then became World Archery Field Champion a week later in Dublin. (To go with a bronze medal from the World Archery Indoor Championships early in 2016.)
He wasn’t finished yet. In November, despite recovering from surgery on his knee, he smashed the indoor ranking round world record with 598 in Marrakesh, and went on to win that Indoor Archery World Cup stage, too.
“It has been a great year. I don’t know if it’s the best in my life but it has been good. I won a few shoots and broke a world record and got an Olympic medal,” said Ellison.
He continued: “2017 holds what I hope to be my best year yet and also a new part of my life, as Toja and I team up on a new adventure that we are very excited about. It’s always fun to start new things so I am excited for 2017, and the possibilities it might hold.”
It’s been a truly spectacular year for the man from Arizona.
2. KU BONCHAN
Only the second male archer in history to do the ‘double’ of team and individual gold at the same Olympics, Ku emerged from the pack of elite Korean men over the last few years to gain the ultimate accolade for recurve archers.
Off the field, he played the joker of the Korean pack, looking like he was having the most fun of all of them. On the field, he proved to be an aggressive fighter, showing the same kind of steely competitive drive under the surface that propelled Ki Bo Bae to her victories.
Without his teammates behind him, The individual journey was a much bumpier ride, with visible nerves and two narrow escapes against Taylor Worth and Brady Ellison, who both could have sent him to an early bath but didn’t have the one arrow when it mattered.
Perhaps the Olympic inexperience showed a little; his coach was seen haranguing him on and off the field. But with luck on his side, he came through and shot well in the final against Jean-Charles Valladont – at least until he celebrated a moment too early before Valladont’s final arrow in the third set was upgraded and he had to shoot again.
Ku Bonchan then showed off his impressive focus, managed to reset and maintain his concentration, to close the match out and become one of the most memorable and entertaining champions we have seen for a long while.
3. SARA LOPEZ
Finished a third consecutive year as the number one compound woman in the world, winning Hyundai Archery World Cup stages in Shanghai, Antalya and Medellin with plenty to spare. She seems increasingly unstoppable at the moment, having not lost a competitive world-level match since the semifinal at the World Archery Championships in 2015, though she unfortunately didn’t compete at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in 2016.
With one of Sara’s biggest challengers, world number two Crystal Gauvin – the last person to beat Lopez head-to-head – moving to recurve from next season, who will emerge to topple her?
Zahra Nemati: In London, Nemati made history, becoming the first Iranian woman to win gold at either Games – then in Rio, she competed at both Olympic and Paralympics. At the former she carried her nation’s flag, and at the latter she won another individual gold. Zahra continues to be an inspiration.
Mike Schloesser: Another year of record breaking and winning performances from the Dutchman, winning the Shanghai stage outdoors, Bangkok stage indoors, and his first Hyundai Archery World Cup Final to boot.
Chang Hye Jin: Five foot two of indomitable will, she had her day in the Sambadromo and took the individual title with incredible confidence. She has also emerged, with style, as one of the stars of the Games in Korea, winning several awards including Female Sportsperson Of The Year – and is planning on taking on Tokyo, too.
Ki Bo Bae: She didn’t manage to take a consecutive individual gold in Rio, but dragged things back into focus enough to come back and take a bronze, before winning her second Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in Odense against her teammate Choi Misun, who was unbeaten through two stages in 2016.
Was this her last Olympics? We will have to wait and see.
Did we get it right? Let us know! It’s @worldarchery on Twitter.