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Canadian Archers at the Olympics

One of the Canadians at the Olympics this year is Canadian Crispin Duenas. He is a regular at the Toronto Public Archery Range and considered to be 17th in the world.

But being in the top 20 in the world still gives him a decent shot at a medal. Some people just lose their cool during big competitions and archery is largely a mental sport.

Crispin Duenas began doing archery and competing when he was relatively young.

“I wanted something different to do and I had a fascination with Robin Hood as a young kid,” says Duenas, who was introduced to the sport by his Grade 8 math teacher at John A. Leslie Public School in Scarborough, Ontario.

He has already won two silver medals at the Pan Am Games and made an appearance at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Four years later the 26-year-old Duenas is ready to try again and says that his initial attraction and excitement of the bow and arrow remains: “If it’s not there, you’re not going to enjoy doing this. It’s what keeps you going in the sport.”

What also keeps Duenas going through practice sessions — including at his favourite outdoor range, the Toronto Public Archery Range, next to the Ontario Science Centre — is what he sees as archery’s biggest challenge: Exposing archery to the general public.

He see's himself as an ambassador trying to showcase his sport to other Canadians. And while its true that Hollywood has done a better job of that lately (The Hunger Games, Brave, The Avengers, Game of Thrones, and the upcoming TV show: "Arrow"), the films alone won't get people out there trying out the sport.

“I’m thinking things like The Hunger Games, (has) sparked interest into archery a little bit more and considering I’m one of the guys people like talking to, I always get the interview... ...I want to make archery known in Canada, I want to make it so that when you say “archery” and “Canada” people think of me and I think I’m well on my way to that now.” Its not ego either, he just wants to promote the sport and make it more prominent to Canadians.

“For example, Canada’s already a hockey-dominant country, right? Why can’t we be archery-dominant?” he wonders.

“Archery is something where you can go to like Bass Pro Shops or something and buy a bow, but on my level, there’s got to be only about 10 guys and the same for the women.”

It is the same reason I started offering archery lessons to students. I wanted to promote the sport and initially I was just teaching my friends for free, but later I realized I was running low on friends willing to learn archery and if I was going to truly promote it as a sport I was going to need to teach it to anyone who was willing to learn. (And to cover the cost of transportation, lost arrows and new equipment I created a fee since new archers often lose arrows.)

I think this urge to teach and encourage other archers is pretty common to the sport of archery. We know its not a common sport and even considered archaic (like discus throwing or javelin throwing). Because of the equipment costs its not a sport that is easy to get into either. Its a bit like hockey in Canada, a sport which only people who can afford all the equipment can get into.

Being a dedicated archer isn't easy either. You're there 2 or 3 times per week battling the elements, heat, rain and wind (the weather doesn't effect your shot so much as it effects your mental condition), plus the exertion of pulling back the taut bow 200 times daily (which is essentially weightlifting).

The mental challenge ends up being the biggest thing for archers. People can, through exercise and cross-training, prepare their bodies for the events, but the mental challenge is what separates the true archers from the amateurs.

“It’s trying to get to know yourself after losing a match,” says Duenas, a graduate of Birchmount Park Collegiate and the University of Toronto, where in 2011 he finished his honours bachelor of science degree in physics. “When you win a match, everything is nice and good,” he says. “But after you lose, you have to analyze why you lost, what you did, what you can do better, what you can do next time to change the result. And sometimes you don’t like what you find. That’s the most difficult thing.”

“It’s a sport where you have to know yourself to take on everyone else,” says Duenas, who in Beijing 2008 was 16th in the qualification round before losing his first outing in match play and finishing 39th overall. “You always have to be on your game, do everything for yourself.”

Duenas is back at the 2012 Summer Games in London having secured the one Canadian spot available through the national trials in Montreal held in May.

While some people might struggle with such isolation in a sport, Duenas says he is prepared for it. “I’m fine with being on my own and not relying on anybody else,” says the only son of Filipino parents who immigrated to Canada in 1977. “Some people can find it more difficult because they’re maybe a little more team-oriented, but I like it because it’s all me. Only I can do what needs to be done.”

Duenas, who plans to become a high school physics teacher and is now volunteering in the classroom of his former Grade 9 science teacher at Birchmount, also thinks his academic background helps his archery, especially when it comes to angles, biomechanics and kinetics.

“That’s all helped me understand my equipment a lot more than a normal archer would,” Duenas says. “It’s just really easy for me to understand what’s going to happen when I do this or I do that... ...I’m able to know what five things will change because I change one thing.”

On Friday Crispin finished eighth of 64 archers in the men’s ranking round at the London Olympics. A strong early showing that will boost his chances of being in the top 3.

PERSONAL NOTE: Crispin was there at the Toronto Public Archery Range during an incident where an elderly man had heat stroke and we had to call an ambulance. His Life Guard training was very helpful.

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