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Japan duo relish mixed archery gold

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Even the hands of an experienced veteran like Takaharu Furukawa sometimes tremble with tension while shooting an arrow at a target 70 meters away.

Yet he explained that mental fortitude plays a huge role in archery.

“Archery is about mental strength,” Furukawa said after he and Tomomi Sugimoto nabbed a gold medal with a decisive victory over North Korea in the recurve mixed team competition at the Asian Games on Monday.

“We score 10 points after 10 points in practices, but it doesn’t go that way when it comes to actual competitions. And the bigger the tournament is, the bigger your nervousness can get because there are more sounds of clicking shutters (by the photographers) and more eyes (of the spectators). So it’s a battle against your tension.”

Indeed, shooting arrows in a practice gallery removed from noisy cameras or cheering fans does not necessarily help archers excel at competitions. That’s why both Furukawa and Sugimoto said they prefer to hold game-like practice sessions with their teammates to acclimate themselves to the pressure.

Furukawa noted that due to the difference in skill level between male and female archers, the performance of female teammates will likely prove to be the difference maker in the mixed team event, which will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020.

While top male archers rarely score below nine points, the 34-year-old said, female archers are more likely to hit eight or even seven. A female archer who can consistently score 10s, as Sugimoto did at the start of the duo’s gold-medal match, can give her team crucial momentum.

“I think the first shot gave us the win,” national team head coach Nobukane Tanaka said of Sugimoto’s attempt.

Meanwhile, Furukawa had provided some advice to help ease some of his teammate’s tension going into the contest.

“I told her that the shutter sounds would be greater (at the Asian Games),” Furukawa reflected. “Because if I hadn’t, she might have gotten nervous hearing those sounds, like ‘I’m being shot.’ “

Sugimoto, who made her Asian Games debut at 23 years old, is grateful for the experience of Furukawa, who won silver in the men’s individual event at the 2012 London Olympics and is currently ranked No. 14 in the world.

“He told me that the amount of the shutter noise would be twice as loud at the Olympics,” Sugimoto recalled. “And it would be three times as great in Tokyo.”

Sugimoto and Furukawa won a recurve mixed team gold medal at the world cup in Antalya, Turkey, in May. Their second gold at an international competition this year should give Japanese archery a boost ahead of 2020.

“Winning the gold medal (while) competing in the mixed team event, which was held at the Asian Games for the first time, not only it gave us confidence, but it also proved that Japanese archery can compete overseas,” Sugimoto said. “So I think it’s building toward the Tokyo Olympics.”