Apologies for the sudden cessation of articles half way through Grunwald. We changed to different accommodation that didn’t have WiFi…
Day 3 consisted of the Polish track, which this year contained something new. For those who don’t know, the Polish track is a cross-country track, still roped like a regular track but winding and in this case uphill. It tends to be several hundred metres long (I think about 350-400m this time) and has targets that will generally include at least one jarmaki (downwards at a target lying flat on the ground) and at least one (this time two) shots on the wrong side of the course. There is also something known as the Grunwald of Battle course. This is simply an open field with a 3x1m target set back from one edge (maybe 15-20 form the field’s edge, making this the shortest available shot). The competitor is free to attack the targets as they choose, approaching and retreating (though not riding in circles). 10pts are awarded for hitting the target and 5pts for an arrow that lands in the immediate area around the targets. This year the courses were merged: you started out in the track and rode along it the wrong way for a few metres, emerging into the Battle course field. Having attacked the battle targets you go around a post and back into the track for the regular Polish track.
My little Irys struggled on this course, being (like me) built for comfort and the occasional short dash rather than for long fast slogs uphill. He didn’t give in, though, and with some gentle encouragement (lots of shouts of “dobre” – Polish for “good” and the occasional “yallah” for old times’ sake – Arabic for “hurry up” and what I spent most of Al Faris 2012 shouting at my horse) he kept going to the end both times.
Other people were rather more exciting to watch, and although the event was won by Wojtek Osiecki riding at a brisk but relatively sedate pace, the real spectacle was people like Ali Goorchian riding fast and nocking with unbelievable speed. There was only one mishap as one of the fast horses disagreed with his rider about the correct direction to take at the end of the track and they ended up agreeing to disagree, with each going his own way. The rider was taken to hospital as a precaution but is now on the mend and assures me that he can shoot with a cracked rib. Tough bunch, horseback archers.
The afternoon was taken up with a trip to Malbork, a vast red brick castle that was the stronghold of the Teutonic Knights. We were lucky to be offered a guided tour that for a student of history like me was fascinating.
That night we had some fun. One of the Poles apparently used to be “a chemist in the army” and it was announced to us that we would go and do some night shooting “and make big kaboom”. About a dozen people each taped a mini glowstick to a couple of arrows and we were given a small target on a stick to shoot at from maybe 20m away. I asked how we would know if we hit and was told “you’ll know”. One volley of arrows later and night vision became a thing of the past. The target was knocked down and turned out to have been wired to some kind of flashbang that blinded and deafened the watching archers. Repeated several times this was definitely worth the two arrows I lost in the process.
The final day was a ground archery competition, involving shooting from various ranges and positions as well as speed shooting. The crowning event involved running around a pole with your head down for 10s before trying with varying degrees of hilarity to reach your bow and start shooting. The event was resoundingly won by Serena Lynn, whose shooting has to be seen to be believed.
We followed this up with one more session of archery battle, in which Team GB was narrowly beaten by a Rest of the World team consisting of Serena and Tyler from the US, Timea from Hungary and Emil from Sweden, whose lethally accurate shooting on the run was decisive in the end.
Just like that, it was all over. This is the downside of these events: suddenly people are leaving and you know that in some cases it will be a year or more before you see them again. The antidote to this, I have found, is twofold: in the first place this is a sport that is largely run on Facebook and just as you feel that you know people before you ever meet them, equally you do feel that you are not really that far apart, even when you are on the other side of the world. The second part is that when you do see people again, it feels like only yesterday that you last saw them. I have many friends with whom I have spent a week or so and then not seen them for over a year, but then you almost start the conversation up where you left off.
For Team GB it was a long drive though some appalling traffic to Warsaw. Our idea of stopping for food, while ultimately a good one, did lead to the slightly ludicrous situation of trying to explain to the lady at the counter that we wanted sauages (basically miming a sausage. Not like that) and failing to such an epic extent that we were served foot-long pizzas. Good pizzas, you understand, but in a very not-sausage way.
It was a successful trip for Team GB, who finish this first stage of the Grand Prx on 55 points, 20 behind Poland (unsurprisingly) but 5 ahead of Sweden (very surprisingly). It was also pretty successful for me personally, especially finishing 5th in the Korean event. Scoring only 2 points fewer than Ana Sokolska is a huge achievement in anybody’s book, and while I am proud of what I achieved, knowing that had I put the first arrow of my penultimate run in the 5 rather than missing then I would have equalled Michal Piasek’s score (and therefore beaten him and come 3rd because I scored higher with my arrows) is enough to keep me wanting more. Equally, I have discovered (more accurately I have been shown by Oisin) a way of holding arrows in my bow hand that finally works for me, I expect my Hungarian scores to improve drastically in the coming months, hopefully to the extent that I do not disgrace myself at the Kassai World Cup in July.
A final thought: I would heartily recommend this competition to anybody. Set on the battlefield of Grunwald (look it up – it’s a very important battle) and supported by the Grunwald Museum (to whom I offer my thanks and my regrets that I was unable to deliver my lecture – maybe next year?), it is steeped in history but is also a week of learning, sharing and having fun, as well as providing the opportunity to see some of the world’s best mounted archers plying their trade.
I would like to extend my thanks to the organisers and helpers of what I think would probably have to rate among the best organised competitions I have ever attended, as well as being tremendous fun. The Polish Horseback Archery Association is clearly doing things right and I wish them all the best until we next meet.
Oh, one more thing: if you do go to Poland, don’t drink the “herbal moonshine”. Just say no.