European Grand Prix 2015 Final Stage – Sweden

Regular readers will know about the European Grand Prix by now.  It’s the world’s only multi-stage horseback archery competition, contested over 3 stages by 7 nations,each sending a team of 3 to each stage.  This year’s final stage was in Norrtalje, near Stockholm, and I went together with Oisin Curtis and Adam Snowball as Team GB.

I am going to take a moment to talk about the way the GP has gone this year for GB.  If you just want the review of this stage, without me pontificating on selection processes and so on, then feel free to skip a couple of paragraphs.  Be warned though, this is basically a whole competition’s blog in one go, so it isn’t going to be quick!

The Story So Far

With Finland sitting this year out,GB were lying in 6th place (effectively out of 6) going into this event and far enough behind that a 6th place finish was inevitable.  The objective was to ensure that we did not finish 6th in each event.  In the two previous stages GB had always finished last.  This is not a reflection on the British team but on the strength of the opposition.  The teams from Poland and Germany in particular are stunningly good and have good depth as well.  France have been performing well, with great performances by a number of their members, especially some of the younger ones.  Hungary had been able to call on the abilities of former Al Faris Champion Matyas Ruszak as well as a number of very solid competitors.  Like Hungary, Sweden have been able to call on one rider (Emil Eriksson) whose scores often rival those of any two Brits, as well as a long list of others who are never less than good and are perfectly capable on their day of beating any of us.

We knew at the start of the year that this would be the case but we had opted anyway to allocate places on the team to as many people as possible, rather than focus on always fielding our strongest team.  The aim in doing so was to try to encourage more people to get involved in international competition, as one of the many fine things about the GP is that while al horseback archery competitions are friendly the idea of going with a team is somehow more comforting for those going to their first event, rather that just turning up somewhere where you may now very few people if anybody.  Friends are made fast (in both senses) in this sport and it is our hope that some of those who have gone abroad for the first time this year will feel more confident simply to pick a competition and go to it secure in the knowledge that there may well be people there whom they have met at the GP and that in any event everybody they will meet will make them immediately welcome.

Stage 3

A preposterously early start saw Oisin and me arrive at Gatwick by 6am and land in Stockholm around midday.  A short tour of Arlanda airport (where it was stinkingly hot) was followed by a slightly longer tour of Arlanda airport as we tried to find where Emil was parked.  This desperate feat accomplished, we set off for the beautiful farm where the competition was being held.  Rolling hills below (including one of a few hundred metres that you had to walk up to get to the competition area) and clear blue skies (complete with ridiculously hot sun) above gave the perfect (if slightly hot) backdrop to a great competition.  As is usual, the whole thing was conducted in an atmosphere of good humoured competition, with the pleasure of the sport and the company taking precedence over what was nonetheless a pretty high level competition.

For me personally, the good news began when I was told that I would be riding Barcos Fancy Cat, my trusty steed from the DHA Hunt Track Cup (see previous entries for this fantastic event).  I really cannot thank Mats and Ylwa enough for letting me ride him again and for their help over the course of the weekend, both in terms of riding advice and the more prosaic (but equally important) matters of handing up arrows and water bottles, telling me my times and picking up on errors as I went.  They and Barco were fantastic.

Such a good boy!

So there we were, the three men of Team GB looking to break out of bottom spot.  The obvious target was Hungary, who were only able to field a team of two.  Surely three of us could beat two?  Even if one was Timea Gal, a very accomplished rider and solid shot who rarely has a bad day; and the other was Aron Fedor, a man who can somehow appear totally calm and composed while shooting with vicious accuracy from the back of a horse that really shouldn’t be going that fast while its rider faces backwards to shoot?

Saturday was the Hungarian event.  Despite loosing 4 or 5 arrows per run, I was not shooting well and never managed more than 1 hit on a run.  On the positive side I did hit on every run and in a decent time (generally about 13-14s for 99m).  I got off feeling pretty disappointed with myself, only to discover that I had scored 76.8: hardly brilliant but by no means a disaster. It put me in 10th out of 24, an annoying 0.5pts behind Terese Nilsson, who may never let me forget it…  I then passed the time acting as target judge, to the hilarity of the

As a team we finished an agonising 13 points behind Hungary.  The ever-reliable Timea scored  a solid 65 and Aron won the event with a brilliant 126 shot from the back of a horse that was going like the proverbial express train.  How he hit anything, much less shoot 3 arrows and still rack up 41 hit points (which is more than I got) is quite beyond me.  Oh well, one event down, 2 to go…

Emil bringing a little style to judging the Hungarian event

Emil bringing a little style to judging the Hungarian event

The Turkish event followed for half of us (those who had to leave early the next day).  This involves picking a blunt arrow up from a stand (usually, although this time it was somebody holding it for you), shooting it upwards at the qabaq target and then shooting a second blunt in a side shot at a small (perhaps 20cm across) circular target.  I have never failed to pick up the arrow before, whether at last year’s event or in practice here.  Somehow I managed both times to knock it straight out of the holder’s hand before mine could close on it.  Still, I hit the qabaq once (using a spare arrow from the quiver) and, on a day when I struggled to hit a 90cm target in the Hungarian, I nailed the tiny side shot both times. Figures.  We would have to wait for the results of this until Sunday afternoon when the others had finished their runs.

Anders on the flying Ivan. Not only did he manage to hit a large number of targets as they blurred past, he even won the Turkish style.

Anders on the flying Ivan. Not only did he manage to hit a large number of targets as they blurred past, he even won the Turkish style.

Speaking of runs, I felt that I should probably do more triathlon training while I was there.  For those who don’t know, I am doing my first triathlon in a few weeks’ time to raise money for Horseback UK, a charity working with injured servicemen.  Do feel free to donate here.  So, in what I think I may have mentioned was disgustingly hot weather, I pulled on my running shoes and went for a 5.5km bout of torture through what turned out to be (once I’d regained my breath after the initial hill) lovely countryside.  For those who are wondering, I can confirm that running in the middle of a horseback archery competition is not a good idea.  It makes tired legs even more tired.

Saturday night passed in a blur of foreign alcohol, including Bavarian Obstler, Hungarian palinka, Polish Soplica and homemade raspberry vodka (thank you Ligi!).  Oh yes,and a traditional Swedish drink. This was poured out for everybody, after which Anders sang a song in Swedish, allegedly about Vikings.  We then all drank the aforementioned drink.  Based on the taste of this liquid, my tentative conclusion is that the “song” was actually just informing the Swedes that they should on no account drink the stuff in their glasses because it was clearly low-grade gasoline being used as a trick on the foreigners.  I have tasted many foul drinks in my time (I’m thinking here of Radek’s “herbal moonshine” last year) but this may well take the gut-burning biscuit.

On the bright side, the food was outstanding.  Really very good.  This had been true on Friday night as well.  Not many competitions can come close to the standard of food here, for which I think I speak for all competitors in thanking our hosts.  In particular Isabel, the 10 year old competitor who baked us a chocolate cake that may well be the best I have ever tasted.  She’s also a far better horseback archer than any 10 year-old should be.

And so to Sunday: the Korean event.  This is my stronger style, requiring quick nocking and repeated short range accuracy at speed rather than long range shooting.  And so naturally I missed both targets on my first run.  Suitably annoyed, I proceeded to hit both on my second, then every target in two runs of triple shot and then 9 out of 10 on the serial shot (a momentary brain fart causing me to miss target 5 on my first run, but at least I finished on a high note).  The hits were not high scoring, being mostly 2s, but they all count and, importantly, hitting multiple targets gets you bonuses.  While my arrows scored only 36 out of a possible 100 points, a total beaten by 11 other people; I picked up 16 out of 20 possible bonus points, which was more than anybody else save two.

Taking a back shot in the Korean event.

Taking a back shot in the Korean event.

The importance of hitting lots of targets to get the bonus, even if only hitting the outer zones, is well illustrated by this comparison: my hits were many but low scoring, meaning that I got, as mentioned above, 36 target points and 16 bonus points Terese, on the other hand, also got 36 target points but she did so by hitting fewer targets and hitting them very accurately. She therefore only managed 3 bonus points.  With the same scores on the target, my quick shooting with accuracy that was good enough but not pinpoint gave me a 13 point lead.  Add 6 more time points for me than for Terese and the previous day’s Hungarian result was well and truly avenged!  This is not intended to start a debate but it is a point worth thinking about for those doing Korean events: if there are bonus points on offer then get them: the Korean event rewards consistently good enough shooting at speed above really accurate shooting that is either too slow or inconsistent.

An anxious wait ended with the relief that between the three of us, GB had managed to beat the Hungarian pair.  By 10 points.  Phew!  As a welcome added bonus, it turned out that we had also beaten Germany in the Turkish.  Two 5th places and a 6th was well within our aims and we left satisfied with the results of the competition as well as having had a terrific time.

We had one more treat before we left.  Less than 2km away is a tiny museum which houses the oldest viking boat ever found.  It was dug up by a local farmer as he cut a new drainage ditch and is a fascinating  sight.  The museum also has a large selection of objects from a variety of eras in local history, including a collection of saddles used by local soldiers in Sweden’s wars.

Adam contemplating the world's oldest viking ship.

Adam contemplating the world’s oldest viking ship.

One of the fine old saddles in the museum's collection.

One of the fine old saddles in the museum’s collection.

I highly recommend a trip there to anybody who goes to an event in this area.  And if possible, go with somebody like Ligi, whose knowledge of everything from vintage saddle construction to viking shipbuilding is quite incredible.  Also, you should definitely get there in a small saloon car with 5 people inside and 2 Bavarians sat in the open boot,with Boney M’s “Daddy Cool” blaring out at top volume.  And that kind of sums up this event: outrageous fun with interesting and knowledgeable people.  And cake.