Martin Samuel: Right London, take a bow… But archery is off target
01:55 GMT, 28 July 2012
Larry Godfrey had just recorded the greatest performance of his life. It was the London Olympics, his Olympics, and he had somehow held fast and saved his very best for it.
He was nervous arriving, he admitted that. And, of course, in his most fevered fantasies, Godfrey had foreseen the day as a shimmering success like this. The conditions were perfect, the surrounds exquisite. His arrows flew straight and true and the numbers inched ever upwards. He let his bow rest for the last time, breathlessly reflecting on a personal best score of 680 out of a maximum 720.
Or as the classification table had it: fourth.
Pulling a few strings: The archers take aim in the ranking round
Archery is a bit like that. Sixty-four archers shoot 4,608 arrows across 12 ends, and at the finish the South Koreans win. And come second. And third. And break the world individual record. And the team record. And the competition hasn’t even started yet, not technically. This was just a round that decides who plays who today.
There were 10 points between Godfrey and Oh Jin-hyek in third place, which is the same margin that separated Godfrey and Jake Kaminski of the USA, in joint 17th. Despite this, Great Britain’s No 1 will rise at dawn’s first twinkle this morning and prepare to attempt the impossible once more. He will travel across London to the iconic setting of Lord’s cricket ground and seek to conjure the spirit of British heroes past. This is a home Games, he thinks, and wonders will happen.
‘You feel the souls coming into you as you step into the place,’ Godfrey said of archery’s temporary home. ‘I know I will have the spirit of WG Grace with me as I walk down the steps of the Lord’s pavilion. He was a Bristolian, too, like me.’
Larry hits a boundary at the home of cricket: Godfrey and a fellow competitor check his closely bunched arrows, marking one that might just have clipped the line of the 10 ring. Only two of this group missed the gold.
Indeed he was. Not much of an archer, though, one would imagine. Major beard issues. Not that it matters. Grace is part of this nation’s sporting heritage and while he might not have been an Olympian, literally or in spirit considering some of the more notorious anecdotes concerning his attitude to sportsmanship, if Godfrey can feel his presence at Lord’s, he might guide those arrows yet.
They have been having fun with history at the home of cricket this week. The coach of the United States team was being teased that the venue pre-dated his country, the first sport being played at the old Lord’s ground in the summer of 1787, with the ratification of the United States constitution taking place in September that year.
The real action starts in front of the pavilion on Saturday — which dates from 1889, so is a year older than Wyoming — but even on the nursery ground yesterday there remained a sense of disbelief that archery should end up in such a hallowed setting.
‘They’ve just given it to us,’ said Michael Peart, who narrowly missed out on a place in Team GB and is now helping archery virgins in the media understand his sport. ‘For the next week, Lord’s is ours.’
Shut out: Archery fans were turned away from Lord's as Friday's action was closed to spectators
The same could be said of the country. While the Olympic flame burns over humble Stratford, Britain is theirs, all theirs; the world’s, to ride around, row across, sail, run and jump all over.
The citizens of London in particular have put their lives on hold to embrace this experience and, after last night’s extravaganza — Dancing nurses! Techno! 1848! Fireworks! — the sense of anticipation is palpable.
On the 5.05am from Manchester to the capital yesterday, droopy-eyed commuters looked forward to a weekend like no other. ‘POETS day,’ said one, sleepily, referring to the acronym long associated with the practice of skipping work early on Friday. ‘Ah, but not just any POETS day,’ said his friend. ‘Olympic POETS day.’
There had been a capacity crowd at Old Trafford on Thursday night to watch an Olympic football tournament that had been derided in most quarters as a joke, and it was much the same at Lord’s. To be brutally honest, for all its skill and technical excellence, archery is not much of a spectator sport.
I've done it: Im Dong-Hyun celebrates after breaking his own world record on Friday
It has drama, because the 64 competitors play a straight knock-out through to the final, it has history — every classical civilisation possessed archers, and it dates from 1900 in Olympic competition, albeit with a hiatus — and in world record holder Im Dong-hyun it has one of the great champions in any discipline, considering that he is legally blind and aims only towards a fuzzy yellow blob.
Yet what happens occurs at such astonishing speed that one has barely registered the arrow leaving the bow before it is embedded in the target.
Archery by numbers
70 The archers stand 70 metres away from the target.
122 The targets measure 122 centimetres in diameter.
40 Archers have a period of 40 seconds to release each arrow.
10 The inner gold ring of the target is worth a maximum 10 points.
Yet, despite this, and the fact that yesterday’s action was a classification round — a way of deciding the draw because first plays 64th, second plays 63rd and so on — Lord’s was a lock-out. Not a sell-out, you will notice, because no public tickets were actually on sale.
Unfortunately, in some Olympic brochures this detail had been overlooked, and the round had been listed merely as an unticketed event, meaning to most minds that, like the marathon or the cycling road race, you could just turn up and watch for nothing.
You couldn’t, but many did in expectation. Cue some very tense scenes by the East Gate entrance. One man had flown in from Mexico. Another couple, from Holland, were hoping to watch their son, Rick van der Ven, who was competing. His dad had shaved his eyebrows and painted on little Dutch flags. It seemed a pity.
Inside, archery folk were sympathetic, to a point. It had been confusingly labelled, they admitted, but ranking day is never usually open to the public; not even media. It does not take place in front of a viewing stand and, on this occasion, not even on the surface that will be used for today’s main event.
Yet how were the public to know They are armed with little bar enthusiasm when it comes to sports such as archery. They have been told for months the greatest party on earth is unfolding and now they are knocking on the door with six tins in a carrier bag and their best mixtape only to be told that semantics are having all the fun.
There is a difference, you see, between events that don’t need tickets, and events that don’t have tickets. Good luck explaining that to a bloke who has just got off a 10-hour flight from Mexico. The irony is that, if the public could have got in, there really was something special to see: two world records and that was just the warm-up.
Aim and fire: Archers take aim during the men's archery individual ranking round
Yet in that moment of disgruntlement and frustration beyond the perimeter of Lord’s, we knew that London 2012 was going to be all right. The success of an Olympics is not measured by the enthusiasm for the blue riband events. The country was always going to be hot for Usain Bolt, or for local heroes such as Rebecca Adlington, Bradley Wiggins and Tom Daley.
Will they get the archery; that is the heart of the matter. And they do. They get the archery, because they get that this is London’s moment, its chance to shine. Long after Godfrey had retired to dream of being guided by the steadfast ghost of Grace, folk were still milling around Lord’s, peering through half-open gates to extract even a hint of proceedings inside.
Behind them, carved in stone on the imposing outer wall were the words of Vitai Lampada (They Pass On The Torch of Life) by Sir Henry Newbolt; written for a different sport, not an Olympic sport in fact, but like the home of cricket, uncannily attuned to what is about to unfold across these isles.
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night — Ten to make and the match to win — A bumping pitch and a blinding light, An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat, Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame, But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote ‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’