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Archery has enjoyed an on-off relationship with the Olympics over the years. It first appeared on the programme at Paris 1900, where six events were held over varying distances, a number that was extended to ten at Antwerp 1920, albeit with fewer countries taking part.
After those Games in Belgium, however, the sport was omitted from the Olympic programme for 52 years, returning at Munich 1972 with individual men’s and women’s events. Though archery has stayed on the programme ever since, it was only at Seoul 1988 that team competitions were first held.
The three-archer team events also followed a seeded knockout format, with each team shooting 24 arrows (eight per archer), and the team with the highest total score winning the match. As in the individual events, ties were also settled by shoot-offs, with each team shooting three arrows, one per team member, to determine the winner.
The knockout format will once again be in use at Rio 2016, where a young Dutch archer by the name of Sjef van den Berg will be among those aiming for gold in the men’s individual and team competitions.
Born on 14 April 1995 in the southern town of Heeswijk-Dinther, Van den Berg took up archery as a four-year-old and made his international debut in 2010.
Explaining his love for his sport, he said: “Archery is what I do: my game, my passion, my life. It’s why I focus and train hard. I want to have fun and be happy, because it’s my passion, my life. The happier I am, the better my results are.”
Currently ranked third in the world behind the Republic of Korea’s Kim Woojin and Ku Bonchan, Van den Berg headed up the Dutch team at the 2015 World Championships in Copenhagen (DEN), where they won a place at Rio 2016, booking the Netherlands’ first appearance in an Olympic archery competition since Athens 2004.
A month prior to that achievement, Van den Berg reached the individual final at the European Games in Baku, losing out to Spain’s Miguel Alvarino Gomez in the battle for gold. He added a bronze to that silver in the team event, where he linked up with Mitch Dielemans and Rick van der Ven, who will be his partners in Rio.
“Being part of the first European Games was a privilege, to say the least,” said the young Dutchman of his Baku experience. “I’ll never forget a single one of those matches. But what I’ll remember best about Baku is the fun we had as team. There was a great atmosphere and we all had a blast.
“I’ve been watching archery matches on the internet ever since I was a kid and always saw the professionals shoot 30s like it meant nothing. The first time I felt like that myself on an international circuit was in Baku, in my first match.”
Van den Berg continued his fine run of form at the Olympic test event in Rio in September 2015, held at the Sambodromo, the venue for the Olympic competitions this August.
The young Dutchman defeated London 2012 team champion Mauro Nespoli in the quarter-finals and India’s Jayant Talukdar in five sets in the semis. Facing world No1 Woojin in final, he put up a brave fight before going down by a single point in the fifth and final set.
“It’s a great venue and it’s an honour to compete at the home of Rio Carnival, such an iconic place for Brazilians,” said Van den Berg afterwards. “The event was really good, well organised.”
The 21-year-old has continued his inexorable rise this year, winning a World Cup event in Shanghai and finishing for the first time among the eight archers who will contest the Archery World Cup final in Copenhagen this September.
Before that comes Rio, however. Voicing his determination to excel in the biggest event of them all, Van den Berg said: “My personal objective isn’t just to be at the Olympic Games but to shoot well there. And as long as I can do that, then everything will be fine.”
The Dutch have picked up just a solitary bronze medal since archery’s return to the Olympic fold at Munich 1972, courtesy of Wieste Van Alten in the men’s competition at Sydney 2000. Van den Berg will hope he can improve on that modest record in Rio.