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Hultzer hits the spot

To say Karen Hultzer is something of a sporting all-rounder would be hitting the target dead centre ÔÇô there aren’t too many sports that the Cape Town resident hasn’t tried her hand at, and excelled at, writes Mark Etheridge.

But it’s as an archer that she plans to make her biggest mark and she recently qualified provisionally for the Olympics in London later this year.

She shot her way to the bronze medal at the recent continental qualifying tournament in Rabat, Morocco and now it’s up to Archery SA to convince the country’s Olympic governing body SASCOC to include the 46-year-old in Team South Africa.

Yes, she’s 46 but in a sport where calmness and accuracy count for more than strength and speed, time is not the issue.

“I started very late but this is a sport where you can do exactly that. There are a number of 70-year-old archers that I’m busy coaching now and in my case I actually think it was better for me. I was such an adrenaline junkie when I was youngÔǪ I had no patience so I guess it’s probably better for me to have started when i was a bit older.”

Once she’d started though her career took flight at pace. After starting the sport aged 41, just a year later she was crowned national champion and a year later has swiftly progressed onto the international line.

Why archery after admitting to being an adrenaline junkie. “Well I was looking for a sport to satisfy my competitive nature but couldn’t afford to aggravate a severe back injury.” She first injured her back in a motorbike accident and then compounded things when she tumbled close to 20 metres while climbing the rocky crags above her home in Muizenberg.

In her early years Hultzer, who matriculated in East London, was a jack of all trades and mastered most. She got provincial colors for squash, hockey, softball and sailing and also dabbled in horse-riding.

But back to archery. “I was national champion after only a few initial lessons and coached myself for the last three years. Because of this lack of access to expertise locally, I’ve become actively involved in coaching.”

It’s also lack of exposure to regular international competition that pegs our archers back. Hultzer uses the continental tournament as an example. “I was obviously quite nervous in the ranking around and that’s the thing, we simply don’t get that experience. The guys I was competing against have the funding to pop overseas and compete all the time and that’s absolutely invaluable.

“In 2009 we were way better than the likes of Morocco and Egypt and since then they have had heaps of funding pumped into the sport and now they have definitely overtaken us.”

Agreeing 100% is Archery SA president Selwyn Moskowitz. “Almost all the competitors have had significant exposure to international events and are basically full time archers. Karen is not, and that may play against her.
For example, since she started the sport in 2008, she has only competed in 10 World Ranking tournaments (three of which she took first place in, one where she took second place, and one in which she took fifth place).

“She’s currently ranked No193 in the world. In looking at the archers who would possibly be competing in the Olympics, most have shot in at least 50+ World Ranking tournaments, and only a handful are ranked in the top 100 ÔÇô so her chances are in fact, statistically, quite high that she would progress past the 1/24 eliminations.”

Describing her qualifying path in Morocco, she said it started a while back. Having made a lot of personal sacrifices to train, I was very despondent at not winning a slot at the World Championships last year, but when the opportunity to shoot in Morocco was presented by World Archery and Olympic Solidarity, I picked up my bow again and started training.

“Because my nerves had got the better of me in the qualifying round, I was drawn against the top archers early on in the eliminations, and it was quite intimidating coming up against the very well trained and experienced teams of Egypt and Morocco. But I knew that even though I lacked the experience, my form is solid and all I had to do was keep my mind on the job. This of course is easier said than done and it was a rollercoaster of a ride, with some moments of brilliance and some I would rather not recall!

“In the past I participated in games where adrenalin was a good thing but on the archery line it is not your friend, and by the end of the tournament I could hardly sign my score sheet.

“I think because of my disappointment at not going through to the gold medal match, I did not really let the significance of my bronze medal and procuring a slot for South Africa to sink in. Only on the plane going home did I realise that if SASCOC gave us the nod I would most likely be shooting arrows for my country on Lord’s cricket ground in four months time.”

Hultzer admits that archery is a constantly challenging sport. “Especially the recurve because there are just so many more variables than in the compound class.”

To this effect practice makes perfect and she has had to fit in her landscaping job around training. Most days will see her taking aim at the Protea club in Main Road, Retreat and she’ll be spending a lot of time there chasing that Olympic dream.

“I try and train six times a week. On average I’ll shoot between 100-200 arrows daily. That could take anything between two and four hours so I guess it averages out at about 20 hours a week.”

As far as final selection goes Hultzer says: “From my side I’ve done everything I can.. now it’s up to Archery SA and SASCOC.”

Certainly Moskowitz is adamant she will not let Team SA down. “I’ve seen her compete in a number of international events, and nothing phases her. This big match mentality and ability is what is going to get her far in the sport. It’s when the chips are down that she really performs. ┬áFor example, in the World Championships in 2008 in Korea, she was ranked quite low, but her determination took her way above her ranking in the eliminations. The same at the World Championships last year in Italy.

“She came up against some of the strongest archers on the planet, and once again, ranked low, she took out some of the top archers. In Morocco, she was ranked really low, and in the eliminations, went all the way through to the medal matches, taking out archers of Morocco and Mauritius, who were world favorites for the Olympics. In my opinion, it shows that when the pressure is on, she performs best. That being said, she has a heart of gold. She has proven that she is an excellent ambassador for South Africa, and I have been proud to wear the same uniform as her.

“Having an archer at the Olympics allows us to show the world that despite our limited resources, we can participate. ┬áWe faced tough competition at the Continental Qualifier and made it through, qualified with both the required minimum score and in the continental championships.”