/By Stephen Wall Morris/
Where do I start? Let’s rewind the clock back a year. My Mother unfortunately was rapidly losing her battle with breast cancer and was bed ridden. She was always delighted to hear of my archery exploits, and when I told her that I could have qualified for the European 3D Championships had I wanted to, my mother told me that I should. A few days later her condition had worsened and when I went back to spend time with her I said that I was going for the 3D World Championships. That was one of the last things I said to her before she lost consciousness.
True to my word, I started shooting as many World Record Status 3D competitions as I could. One of my main conditions about entering was that I was not going to be last on the list of results. My scores kept improving an each shoot I did and I easily got the two qualifying scores I needed. In fact, I submitted a third, just in case.
Things were going well until eight weeks before departure, when I broke the bottom limb of my Border Covert Hunter. This was not a simple fix, of popping in to your local archery shop and buying a new set of limbs. These babies are hand made in Scotland and not freely available. First thing was to message Sid at Border to let him know what had happened. The second thing was to check to see what stock they had available. Unfortunately, the only set of limbs that were on the stock list were sold pending payments. Sid came back to me to say that Border were on their annual two week holidays and that they were only one week in, but he would check and see what could be done as soon as he got back.
Seven weeks to go when Sid came back to me again to say that there was a set of limbs that were just out of tillering that might suit. They were #36 longs, instead of #36 mediums. I didn’t care, I need them, send them on. Sid said he needed another week to finish them properly, before he could send them to me.
Five and a half weeks to go and my new limbs arrived. One small problem, I needed a longer string now. I have bought two new strings for the old limbs and needed to change them. That took over a week and a half before I got a string on the bow so I could tune my arrows. Time was running out, plus there was a competition at the weekend, which was the last one before we flew out to Terni in Italy. I started shooting and decided to go back to my old set of arrows rather than my newer ones as they were lighter. I managed to tune my point on to 32m. I had a total of two and a half hours’ practice before going to Slaney Archers competition. On the first day I broke my PB for 24 targets, on the second day I broke it again and also my PB for 48 targets. Witnessed by none other than Ms. Jay herself.
Eight days to go before we left for Italy. I accidentally managed to crush the top of my middle finger of my release hand under a concrete man hole cover. That put an end to any practice and also raised huge doubts as to whether or not I could go. I spent the rest of the week with ice packs and then after four days alternating between very hot water and ice packs trying to reduce the bruising and swelling.
On the 2nd September, myself, Alan Callister and Jane Ward, members of the Irish squad headed out to the airport at 3.30am. We had put in a lot of emails and messages to Dublin Airport Authority, Aer Lingus and Ryanair beforehand, so when we arrived, they were expecting us. We checked in our bags and were then whisked over to the oversize baggage area where we were introduced as members of the Irish Archery Team. It could have not gone smoother for us. We were on our way.
It was too good to be true, when we arrived at Da Vinci airport in Rome we managed to get our luggage ok, but not the bow case with two longbows and arrows in it. We spent a good 20 – 30 minutes wandering around the baggage claim looking for it and asking where it was. Luckily Alan had put a tracker in the case, so we knew that it was in the airport, just not exactly where. Eventually it turned up at a totally different baggage claim nowhere near the one it was meant to be at.
We were met outside by a young Italian man with very good English, who brought us out to out transport to Terni – A Prison Bus. I kid you not, somebody in Italian archery has a friend in the prison service who provides the transport. After a while waiting for other teams from Uruguay and Mexico, we were off again. Except we weren’t, we were back at the same airport at the same terminal and in the same parking spot, because the organizer had driven off and left the Canadian team behind. Once we were all loaded, we were back on the road for a wild ride, courtesy of the Italian driver, who must have thought that this prison bus was a Ferrari, because he was scaring the bejeasus out of anyone who got in his way. It was either full acceleration or full brakes. I think that the bus had lost at least two gears by the time we arrived at accreditation at Terni Archery Club.
After accreditation we headed to our hotel, The Hotel de Paris. Sounded lovely, looked…
It turns out that this quaint little hotel in the industrial town of Terni, was actually very well placed. A short walk had you to the shops, there was a pizza place across the road, a train station at the end of the road (€7 into Rome), the main shopping street about five minutes walk and loads of gelato shops. We were shacked up with some of the American squad, the Germans, Estonians and the Croatians. Across the road at another hotel were the Canadians and the Danish, with the French just up around the corner.
Saturday, and we are off for some unofficial practice at the archery club. We flew a day earlier than was necessary, just in case there was an issue with bags or bows going missing. Lucky for us, all was good, so we got an extra day of practice. This was going to be the first time I shot a bow since I crushed my finger, was I going to be able to draw back let along release? It worked, I must admit it hurt, even though I was wearing a leather glove, it did hurt, but not as much as I thought it might. The next small issue was to get the arrows to land where I aimed them. At lunch time we were treated to a pack lunch, this was the lunch that we had the option of prepaying for and getting every day while we were at the championships. Oh my sweet lord, I was soooo happy that I didn’t tick that box. Two sandwiches, a bag of nuts, a biscuit, a bottle of energy drink and a bottle of water. It took me over fifteen minutes to eat one sandwich. You would need to sharpen your teeth with a file to bite through the bread, Needless to say, my jaw was too tired to eat the other, so I munched the nuts and biscuit.
Sunday was official practice and equipment check. We were lucky that we were in the afternoon session so had a lie in (9.00am) after which we had a brief explore around Terni to see what else we could find. After lunch we headed up to the practice grounds at Stroncone range, along with the Americans, Germans, Croatians and Estonians in our delightful prison bus. The journey was just over half an hour, out of Terni, winding our way up into the Umbrian mountains. As we drove higher we reached low cloud which gradually worsened until visibility was less than 100m. Next thing we knew the bus had broken down and we were stranded at the side of the road. Luckily enough there was enough traffic headed up to the competition grounds that we were rescued by another bus after about a 15 minute wait.
When we arrived at our destination, we had driven above the cloud to a flat area in the hills where there was a large tented village set up, with enough space for athletes to assemble, a meeting area for team coaches, equipment storage, vendor stands and a café. Once all the athletes had arrived, we were assembled into our countries for the opening ceremony. After the speeches we grabbed out gear and headed for some official practice. It was great to be there with so many of the world’s top archers. There were over 320 archers from 28 different countries from around the world. The largest group were the Traditional of which there were 52 archers. After practice we headed back to our hotel for a bite to eat and an early night.
We were up bright and early Monday morning, I had to make sure I had a good breakfast before heading up to the course, that was my first mistake. When we got there, we set up and headed for the practice grounds to warm up. Talk about a bun fight, because all the archers were there, the shooting line was three to four deep, so first and second detail was more like first, first and a half, second and whatever time you could get. Don’t get me wrong, I got warmed up, but it was an experience.
The first course I shot was the blue course. We later discovered that it was probably the hardest and most technical of the three courses. There were ups, downs, shot, long, cross slopes and dead zones to beat the band. Not to mention that a sizeable part of the course was open and exposed to the sun. Temperatures were approximately 26 – 28 degrees when the sun was shining. Did I mention the rocks?? There were a lot of rocks and stone. My first shot was an uphill standing deer with nothing around it but blue sky and rocks in the baking sun - Lovely.
Between nerves, the rather large breakfast and a lot of water that I had consumed before the round, I was not feeling great. Looking back now, I can see I had made rookie mistake number one. I had changed what I normally do. I had eaten and drank more than I would at a competition in Ireland and now I was suffering the consequences. Needless to say, I did not shoot well in the first round. I was at least 50 points off where I would have expected to be. Ho hum, let’s see how we go tomorrow.
Tuesday started off much like Monday, except this time I ate a regular breakfast and only had the one coffee. Back on the prison bus and up to Stroncone for the second day of qualifying. Today we were on the red course. This one was a longer course, mainly in the woods and less stones thank God. Today was some of the best archery I have ever experienced. All four archers were equally matched. As we shot from one target to the next, we were never more than five point apart. It was thrilling, to say the least. The guys I was shooting with were from Norway, Sweden and Uruguay. Sergio from Uruguay didn’t have a word of English, but every time we shot at a target that you could expect to shoot and kill eg a pig, he would make nom nom noises. Lennart from Sweden only had 25% of his lung capacity, so we took our time climbing hills etc and Bjorn from Norway was just a regular nice guy. This was archery at it’s best. At the end of the day I shot at a level where I would expect to be, but my combined scores for the two days was not high enough to progress. After that I was only there as a tourist, so that night we went out for a bite to eat and some refreshments, because the next day was the team events which we did not qualify for. In fact, only one of the squad had made it through to shoot and that was Orla O’Connor shooting barebow.
Wednesday was a lazy day in Terni, we managed to find a public swimming pool about 10 minutes from the hotel, so we chillaxed there for most of the day.
Thursday was the individual matches and Orla was in action again, so the whole squad headed up to support her. The day started out well, but as the day wore on the weather took a change for the worst. Lucky for Orla she had shot her rounds before it broke, but late in the afternoon the heavens opened and we got lashed out of it. The rain was so heavy that the tented village flooded. We later heard that the whole area was a dried up mountain lake. Weill it became that again and shooting was suspended for the day. Alan Callister befriended a Carabineri (Italian policeman) called Benni. We managed to convince him to give us a lift back to the hotel, because there were a lot of archers trying to get away because of the rain. Three of us jumped into his car and drove with lights flashing, (sirens some times), skipping traffic, all the way back to the hotel.
Friday was another pool day as we had nobody taking part. The grounds at Stroncone were flooded, so they had to continue the competition at Terni archery club. The sun was out the pool was warm.
Saturday was finals day and we all headed up to the Roman ruins at Carsulae. The weather was glorious, the ruins were spectacular and the course was set in amongst the buildings and Amphitheatre. We had to watch most of the matches on a big screen in the Amphitheatre because it would have been impossible to have that many bodies around the competitors and to keep them all safe. The video coverage wasn’t brilliant, but it was enough. This is when you start shouting for the guys you have met and made friends with, it doesn’t matter what country they are from. It’s nail biting stuff. The finalists for each bow style are on a different level altogether.
After the finals and the awards ceremonies (there were a lot of them) we are all back on the bus and headed to the hotel. We only have about an hour to shower, change and get ready for the gala night in in the walled town of Stroncone. Some of us have decided to wear Hawaiian shirts for the evening. This has been coordinated with several other archers from other countries too. It was a wonderful evening wandering around inside the walled town along it’s narrow streets. Aperitif at the gate, starter inside the walls, first course at the far end of the town, second course in the middle and desert at the other end. All the while being entertained by actors, posing as locals from times gone by doing what they would have done, back in the day. There was also drummers and majorettes at various spots along the way too. It was a magical place to explore and a wonderful evening. It was just a shame that this was the end of our trip. The next morning, we would all be up at 5.00am to get on a bus for the airport.
How did I do? I ended up 33rd out of 52 in the standings. I had hoped to make the low 20s, but considering this was my first international competition, I think I did OK. Some of my other achievements at the championships were, a ‘Robinhood’ on the second day of official practice and the fact that I was bitten by mosquitos 52 times in only 2 days. After that I lost count and almost consciousness due to blood loss.
Would I do this again? Absolutely, but not the next one. This was something I did because I made a promise to my mother that I would. I have made friends in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, Great Britain, America, Canada and Uruguay. I look forward to seeing them and shooting with them in the future. If you get an opportunity to represent your country at a competition like this, all I can say is, go for it, you deserve it and you will not regret it.