Turkey has never won an Olympic medal in archery but Yasemin Anagoz and Mete Gazoz are determined to change that, starting at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The pair are both just 20-years-old, but they have already risen to the top table of their sport and were each named 2018 World Archery Athlete of the Year, an award voted for by their peers.
While they have yet to qualify for Tokyo, they are aiming for nothing less than a podium finish – preferably the top step – and with it a place in the history books for themselves and Turkey.
Take this from Anagoz: “This is everyone’s hope and I trust it.”
And from Gazoz: “I want to be a double Olympic gold medallist and go until 2036.”
Their emergence is what happens when investment of time and money is combined with talent and determination. Add in the essential ingredient that is hard work, which calls on the pair to train 10 hours a day, and this is what you get.
They live together with 12 other archers and coaches at a hotel in Antalya – archery a constant in their lives. It is a consuming way of life, but one that has helped drive them in their pursuit of Olympic glory. For both, Tokyo would be a second Olympic Games after they made their debuts at , where they made it to the round of 32 in their respective individual recurve events.
Tokyo sees the introduction of the mixed team event, with the pair having won medals at three World Cup events last year alone.
Speaking at the European Games in June in Minsk, Belarus, their different characters emerged. Gazoz – steeped in archery from the age of three – is relaxed, a lover of computer games and always happy to be in the company of others, while Anagoz is clearly a big thinker, insightful and reflective with a liking for solitude.
“We have no mutual things, we are different people,” said Anagoz with a smile. “Sometimes you fight with your brother at home too, so it’s the same.”
Anagoz was born in Izmir in October 1998, the first child of mother Songul and father Aykunt. Brother Nuri came along 10 years later.
Showered with affection as the first child in the extended family, she was also encouraged to be the best she could be as she grew up, in a home where there was great support for women’s sport. By extension, Anagoz was urged to stand on her own two feet when it came to money, career and gaining the respect of others.
Her mother has overcome much, including the loss of her parents as a child as well as the death of her brothers, and she has both led the way for and helped mould her daughter, giving her perspective, teaching her to see the solution and not the problem.
“After everything, my mum still stays strong and she has lived her life,” said Anagoz. “She never needed someone else with her, she did everything by herself.
“I never thought I could be a strong and tough woman, but she pushed me and I became like this.”
Anagoz had an immediate affinity with archery at nine years old, and within three months she was competing. From the start, it was about making the national team and winning medals for Turkey.
She went to the World Junior Championships before reaching the quarter-finals at the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014. Anagoz won team silver at the 2015 World Youth Championships, but it was the following year that was truly seared in the memory, as she made her Olympic debut in Rio.
“It was so special – I miss that moment so much,” she said. “When I feel I am not strong, I just think of that moment, because I was just 17 there. When I watch it, even now, I get so excited. I’m like how did I stand that well on the line? How did I shoot it in the 10? I can’t even believe how I did myself. This one is so special for me.”
She partnered Gazoz to bronze in the mixed team at the 2017 World Youth Championships in Rosario and continued her upward trajectory in 2018 with success on the senior stage.
Anagoz was crowned European champion in Legnica, Poland, after defeating Denmark’s former world champion Maja Jager, as well as anchoring the women to the team title. She then had an incredible run at the Samsun World Cup final, beating Olympic champion Chang Hyejin en route, before winning silver.
While Anagoz is targeting a medal at next year’s Olympic Games, she has yet to qualify and has just two chances left, in Antalya and Berlin in May and June 2020.
“Sooner or later I will get this,” said Anagoz. “I trust myself. I deserve that and I will get it. What I am thinking about is the medal in Tokyo, not going to Tokyo. It is alright. It will happen.”
Gazoz shares a similar mindset, drawing confidence from his experience.
The younger of the two, he grew up in Istanbul and comes from a family with an archery history. His father is Metin Gazoz, once the national junior team coach, mother Meral is president of a club and sister Melisa also shoots.
His father fashioned his first bow when he was three, and by eight he was competing. For Gazoz, archery was always his destiny. “There is no day I don’t want it,” he said through Anagoz. “I have grown up like this and it became my life, so I never had the idea of not loving it or not making it.”
Gazoz went on to make his national junior team debut in Romania aged 14, and he came fourth at the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014. He rose swiftly through the junior ranks and travelled to Rio two months after his 17th birthday. His first-round match was particularly memorable; he came from 4-0 down to force a tiebreak, which he went on to win.
But Rio was not his greatest day – rather, it was when he qualified for the Games by claiming silver at the European Championships in Nottingham, England.
“That is the moment, the achievement,” he said. “The feeling when I got the quota place was better than competing there.”
He excelled in 2018, winning gold in the individual and team events, as well as the mixed team with Anagoz at the European Youth Championships in Patras, Greece.
There was silver in the junior men’s recurve competition at the World Indoor Championships in Yankton, South Dakota – form that transferred onto the senior circuit as he won his first Archery World Cup stage in Berlin.
In April 2019, Gazoz achieved the highest international competition score outside the Olympic Games when he shot 698 from a possible 720 points at the 72-arrow 70m ranking round at the European Grand Prix in Bucharest.
There has also been a full set of medals on the World Cup stage, with double gold at the World Cup in Berlin in July, days after the conclusion of the European Games.
The sky’s the limit for archery in Turkey, which Gazoz puts down to commitment and belief.
“It all comes from hard work. They didn’t believe the way that we believe now. Our goal is always to be on top, not just to make qualification. We always aim for gold or better. This is how we are getting better than the others.”