I can’t remember what year it was, but somewhere around the turn of the century I actually reached my peak as a sportsman.
That might not be entirely true, but it was certainly my best result as a sportsman, so let’s put it that way. It was a day of torrential rain and I was taking part in a team head-to-head competition in archery at the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall.
Head-to-head competition had been introduced to archery to keep it more entertaining for spectators and television viewers at events such as the Olympics. Watching sitting someone shoot 12 dozen arrows us pretty dull even to those who enjoy the sport, so a shorter format in which competitors are eliminated every round works quite well.
The previous day had been the singles event and, by virtue of not qualifying well, I was knocked out in the first round by an national team hopeful. This is the downside of the head-to-head format for those taking part – you can spend the rest of your afternoon at a massive loose end while waiting for those people you travelled with to finish!
The next day was the team event, with teams selected based on the previous day’s results, so I struck quite lucky being partnered with an English and a Scottish international, the latter of which I knew very well considering she was a member of my own club and is still one of my best friends. We got through the earlier rounds of the knock out competition beating more club mates along the way, until we got to the final against a team consisting of the guy that knocked me out the day before, a one-armed archer (who was simply amazing) and one other person.
In the final, I came alive. The weather was awful and it had been a long day but I got to the stage where I pretty much could not miss. We won fairly comfortably with a crowd watching, cheering every shot as it went in the 10 ring.
It’s a story I remember when I hear people talk about what makes great sportspeople (not saying that I was, but keep with me!) and what makes them shine and what makes them crumble. Most articles will revolve around banishing fear of failure to perform at your true potential. To an extent, this happened to me. I remember saying before the final that I’d already won a medal (actually, they were different types of glasses rather than medals!) so how we performed in the final was a bonus.
There were, however, other factors. The inclement weather was one – it added that extra level of concentration for me, knowing that I couldn’t shoot any lazy shots. Another factor was the crowd, and being able to show off as the centre of attention and object of a lot of support and trust from team mates. I also, badly, didn’t want to let my teammates down so I needed to be performing at the same level as them.
The forth factor I remember was slightly less obvious – I had a sore left hand. So how did an injury help, I hear you ask? (You did ask, didn’t you? No? OK, please, just amuse me for now.) In archery you don’t so much hold the bow as push it away from you, and my left hand was my bow hand. The aim of the game is consistency, and I knew with every shot that if I made my hand hurt then I was applying the pressure in the same place over and over again.
That afternoon was a peak that I never hit again in my archery days, and it’s an afternoon I remember whenever I hear discussions about performing at your best. As much as people may talk about banishing negativity, teamwork, perfect preparation and no little amount of skill, sometimes you just need that little bit of luck too.
Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
Always believe in, because you are
I’m glad that you’re bound to return
Something I could have learned
You’re indestructible, always believing
Gold by Spandau Ballet