In a quiet corner of Newcastle University there exists the almost forgotten world of archery. On October 29th 2016, two teams represented Newcastle at the Northern Universities Team Championship (NUTC).
After a sleepy 06:30 start, we travelled down to York University. Team Newcastle A was made up of recurve archers: Sarah Byers, Heather Flint and Riki Kusuyama. Team Newcastle B consisted of barebow archers: Miriam Atkinson and Joss Cousins, and longbow archer: Molly Humphrey.
For those unfamiliar with the different bow types, here is quick comparison. Recurve bows are named for their limbs which curve back on themselves. The bows also feature stabilisers to spread the weight of the bow and a sight, which allows the archer to aim at the same spot with every arrow. These are the bows that archers use during the Olympics.
Barebow use the same limbs as recurve bows but are without stabilisers and sights, meaning that barebow archers must use their own techniques to find their aiming point. Longbows are the classic bows we know from history. Unlike recurve and barebow, the longbow string is released almost immediately after the bow is drawn. This gives the archer only a split second to aim.
"There were nerves before the competition even started"
The competition was split into two rounds – The Ranking Round in the morning and the Head to Head in the afternoon. For the Ranking Round archers had to shoot 30 arrows each at 40cm targets from 20 yards away. The individual scores were then added together to make the two team scores.
There were nerves before the competition even started. Typically the targets are placed in a horizontal line along the middle of the boss (which is the foam or straw stand the targets are pinned to not a person) and this was how we had trained. Instead the targets were placed along the top and bottom of the bosses – completely changing the aiming points we had practiced with. Fortunately competitions allow archers a free practice end to adjusting their sighting and aim before the scoring begins. So with a renewed confidence, we began scoring.
Kusuyama’s self confessed uncertain first end proved to be no obstacle as he quickly found his rhythm. Together with the skills of Flint and Byers, Newcastle A scored 592 points ranking them 12th out of the 16 teams.
One of the only non-recurve teams at the competition, Newcastle B had something to prove. They suffered an early knock when a mistake on the score sheet cost Atkinson five points but they refused to lose heart. Halfway through the round a bouncer from Humphrey (where an arrow literally bounces against the target and drops back towards the archer) required the team to pause until all other teams had shot before they could finish their end. With all eyes on them, Newcastle B remained calm and shot one of their best ends. An excellent 10 from Humphrey on longbow, some good arrows from Atkinson and no misses from Cousins helped earn the team 397 points, ranking 14th overall.
At the end of the Ranking Round special mention must go to Flint who came 2nd in the women’s individual ranking on 257 points and Kusuyama who came 13th in the men’s individual ranking on 239 points.
The first round of the Head to Head saw Newcastle A pitted against Bradford A (ranked 5th) and Newcastle B facing Bradford B (ranked 3rd). Bradford are a notoriously good team in archery. We were now looking at the very real possibility of losing both our teams in the first round.
For the Head to Head the 40cm targets were removed and were replaced by a two by three grid with each square containing a target. We had trained with the traditional 20cm targets with varying degrees of success but these targets were only 6cm across! 6cm targets from 20 yards away! Some teams had actually brought binoculars. None of us had ever shot at a 6cm target before. The odds were not in Newcastle’s favour.
"For us archery is about trying your best, steadily improving your own score and helping others to improve theirs"
Newcastle A went first. As before there was a practice end of sighters and then the scoring - one point for a hit, zero for a miss, and minus a point if two arrows hit the same target. At first Newcastle and Bradford’s A teams seemed evenly matched but then Newcastle A started to pull away. Watching from behind the line Cousins, Atkinson and Humphrey could barely contain their excitement as their teammates continued to score hits. The end result? 7-4 to Newcastle A and a place in the next Head to Head.
Newcastle B next and their joy quickly faded at the daunting challenge in front of them. Even Flint, Byers and Rusuyama were unsure the 6cm targets could be hit using a barebow. It was a tense start with the sighter end yielding no hits. Newcastle B’s score was still zero when Cousins came to the line at the final seconds of the first end. To both teams surprised and delight Cousins managed to put both of his arrows into separate targets – earning them their first two points.
Atkinson followed this with three of her next four arrows finding targets. With the only longbow in the competition, several of Humphrey’s arrows came agonising close to the targets. Newcastle B ended the round on respectable 5 points. However it was a case of bad luck of the draw with Bradford B scoring 11 points – the highest of any team that round.
Newcastle A took their places on the line once more, this time face hosts York A. Each end the teams continually overtook each other. Byers experienced several equipment malfunctions – at one point her sight fell off her bow after she released an arrow! But after a quick fix she placed both of her arrows in target the following end. At the end the round Newcastle A and York A were tied 6-6.
In the shoot-off each archer had one arrow and one chance to hit the targets. Flint and Rusuyama each scored a hit but the team found themselves once again tied with York A. the archers took to the line for the third time. Flint expertly placed her arrow in the centre of a target but it wasn’t enough to beat York A’s perfect 3 hits.
The competition ended with a War of the Roses Head to Head, with York A and B and Lancaster A and B battling for the medals. York A took first place after pushing Lancaster A into second. York B claimed third place.
Archery doesn’t receive much recognition at Newcastle University because we don’t often bring home the shiny medals. But if that’s all you care about then you’re missing the point entirely. For us archery is about trying your best, steadily improving your own score and helping others to improve theirs. It can be just as rewarding seeing someone else shoot a perfect 10 or getting a tight grouping of arrows as when you achieve that yourself.
Whether it’s practicing at the range or meeting other students at competitions, there is always a warm, friendly, if slightly dysfunctional family environment around you. Honest truth – any medals that you might win are merely a bonus.