I’m indifferent to archery. The only time I’ve watched archery with any interest is during Disney’s Pixar movie Brave. This is the Olympics, however, and you find yourself rooting for sports you previously would have shunned for an afternoon of mowing the lawn or organizing your cupboards. Greco Roman wrestling? Handball? Suddenly they have acquired an appreciative audience.
Over a year ago I applied for Olympics tickets in a range of sports. I got nothing, the English husband got archery. It’s being held at Lord’s cricket ground, the spiritual home of cricket. Located in St John’s Wood, northwest London, it has been a hallowed sporting ground since 1814 (cricket dates back to 1787). During the Olympics, Lord’s serves as the stunning backdrop to the archery.
Getting to the venue is not difficult from where we live, but entering Lord’s requires us to put all our possessions through an airport-style security process. We are not allowed to come in with drinks either. Police officers walk up and down the outside of Lord’s carrying huge guns like mothers cradling children. Cars are also subjected to checks.
The archers come out to an impressive green field. The target they have to hit looks to be miles away. In reality, it’s a 70-metre distance. Big television screens show you how close the archers come to hitting the mark, because it’s difficult to see how close the arrow gets with the naked eye.
I’m not that familiar with the rules, but it’s like hitting a bull’s eye – you simply have to come as close to the target as possible. You get three arrows for one round, with a maximum of 10 points scored for each. We saw one person score a perfect 30, but this is rare. If the score is the same at the end of a round, the players enter a shoot-off.
The big story of the day seems to center around an American called Brady Ellison, who comes from Glendale, Arizona, and looks like a surfer who spends a significant amount of time in the sun. (For my San Diego friends, Ellison trains in Chula Vista.) He’s the no. 1 player in the world and is expected to win. He’s up against an Australian called Taylor Worth in the round of 16.
It’s not Ellison’s day, though, and he loses to Worth in a tight match. The crowd likes an underdog and cheers enthusiastically. I wanted to see Ellison win, but I am consoled by the fact that a Mexican woman goes through in her match.
My biggest shock of the day has nothing to do with Ellison’s upset. When English archer Simon Terry comes out to rousing applause, my friend turns to me and says, ‘How old would you say he is?’ I squint into the distance; my eyesight is not what it used to be. I see a large man with salt-and-pepper hair (what’s left of it). He looks to be about twice the age of his competitors.
‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘I would guess around 50.’
It turns out that Terry was born in 1974, a year after me. This would make him between 37 and 38. I am worried that I look every bit as old as he does, but I just don’t know it. I always wonder if I look older to strangers than I look to myself.
This is what I have noticed about the Olympics: everyone is so ridiculously young. There are 15-year-olds winning medals in the pool. Did they come of the womb swimming 50m? It dawns on me that I could have children competing in the Olympics. This is seriously disturbing.
If you see an Olympian approaching 40, they look ancient, like a grandpa competing with a team of fresh-faced upstarts. Some of these archers look to be teenagers, I notice with growing unease. The Olympics only confirm what I have long suspected – I am now entering an age of decrepitude.
But there are upsides. Our day out is blessed with good weather despite predictions of rain. Soft, billowy clouds scud across the sky; they look no more menacing than large balls of cotton wool. We drink champagne in the sun, and I am old enough to appreciate it and can just about afford it very occasionally. Yes, there are upsides to getting older, competitive sports notwithstanding.