Prospects for Gold / Hallard the master bowman: Phil Shaw meets the dedicated archer determined to turn ambition into more than flights of fancy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
SACRIFICE is a concept with which most of those who will represent Great Britain in Barcelona are on intimate terms. But with the exception of the boxers, few have allowed their features to be rearranged like Steve Hallard.

What appears to be a dimple in his chin is actually a groove caused by the constant pressure of the string from his bow being drawn taut against the face. The skin on one side of the indentation is noticeably more developed. Hallard's fingers, longer and broader on the right hand, have callouses now but may in time be afflicted by arthritis. And one shoulder is slightly higher than the other.

'Archery is all about a fine balance within the body, which I've achieved,' the 6ft 2in former schoolboy rugby forward says. 'But it's an uneven balance, and to be honest it's not good for you. My back structure has changed for instance, which gave me a lot of trouble.'

The problem is as old as the sport, which has its origins in hunting. When the Mary Rose was raised the skeletons of the bowmen were identified by their bone alignment. If windsurfers do it standing up, as the car-stickers claim, archers do it lop-sided.

The seven-time UK Masters winner considers it all worthwhile, and exudes quiet confidence that his devotion to the sport he took up at 10 may shortly reap the ultimate reward. Now approaching his third Olympics at the grand old age of 27, Steve from Rugby could well return as Britain's best-known bowman since Robin of Loxley.

He has already tried the winners' rostrum for size, having combined with Richard Priestman and Leroy Watson to take the bronze in the men's team event four summers ago. David Clarke, manager of the six-strong squad, believes Hallard possesses the talent, temperament and experience to win Britain's first individual archery medal since brother and sister William and Lottie Dod garnered gold and silver respectively in 1908.

In both Los Angeles and Seoul, Hallard came 21st out of about 100 competitors. If such placings give the impression of another plucky British no-hoper, it is a false one. In the 1989 World Championship he was second, missing the title by a solitary point out of 360. At the recent European Championship in Malta, marred by fierce cross winds, he came a creditable sixth.

What is more, there is little to separate the leading contenders. 'Any one of dozens could win it,' he maintains. 'I've seen people come from 24th place on the third day to win on the fourth, whereas in the old days the best he might have done is rise to the high teens.

'It's basically a mental game. When you get a lot of players at the same level, all with the same hi-tech equipment, the winner will be the one whose game is that little bit sharper. It needs 100 per cent concentration, belief and bottle. When you have to make one shot to win, the guy who thinks, 'Hang on a minute' . . . the moment's gone for him.'

The Jeremy Bates syndrome? Hallard shrugs - he has been so absorbed in his preparations, aided by GEC's generous allowance of time off from his job as a draughtsman, that his fellow Midlander's Wimbledon wobble passed him by.

Like tennis, archery was off the Olympic schedule for a long time, being reintroduced after a 52-year absence in 1972. Since then, the format has changed regularly. Eight years ago Darrell Pace of the United States had effectively won the gold on the first of four days, which Hallard considers 'killed it off as a media spectacle'.

In Seoul, where the winner was another American, Jay Barrs, the numbers were whittled down to eight on the final afternoon. They then took turns to shoot at the target (five rings, coincidentally) from ranges of 30, 50, 70 and 90 metres (roughly the length of a football pitch). In Barcelona it will again be different, although Hallard is thankful that shooting the live pigeon, a discipline in the 1900 Games, has not been reintroduced.

'We'll all shoot for two days, with the top 32 then going into a matchplay event. They've also reduced the shots you can have at one distance from 36 to 12. The final round will be all over in 20 minutes. It's a bit of a lottery - one mistake and you've had it - but it will make good TV. Everyone there is capable of putting a dozen shots together.'

Right now everything is geared towards the moment he fires his first arrow at the Vall d'Hebron. Hallard is combining training, aimed at staying supple, with intense practice. . . in his living room. 'I can sit here,' he explains in an armchair shared by a comatose cat, 'and shoot the Olympic round in my mind. If you go over and over it, by the time you're in the position of shooting for gold, you've done it hundreds of times already. The more you think and talk about something, the more your conscious brings your sub-conscious towards doing it. You convince yourself you're going to do it.'

Hallard wants to add at least one more fling to his bow, in Atlanta four years hence - and preferably as Olympic champion. 'My form has never been better and I feel capable of winning it,' he says. 'If any of the British team won I think we'd feel duty bound to defend it and make the most of the media interest, because we love the sport. I'll be in archery for the rest of my days.'

Catalan nationalism and the

Olympic platform, page 10

(Photograph omitted)

Comments