Ten years ago, the Mexicans Aída Román and Mariana Avitia made history in the sport by winning the silver and bronze medals, respectively, at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The two faced each other in the semifinals. Roman won the match 6-4 and went on to the gold medal match. Avitia competed for the bronze medal.

“Of course everyone wants to get to a final for the gold, but I didn’t go through but I knew I had a chance to win a bronze and I couldn’t pass it up. It was now or never and I was not going to stay with my arms crossed. I wanted to have that bronze medal with me and I put in a lot of hard work to make it happen. It was in a matter of seconds that I said “I have to start from zero in this match to be able to win this match” and there were also wind factors. The wind was super intense and I said ‘God bless each of my arrows, obviously I’m going to do my thing, compensate and everything’.”

Mariana Avitia faced Khatuna Lorig of the United States in the bronze medal match. “Actually in that match two things happened to Khatuna. The first was that she hit the little camera.” At these Olympics, a micro camera was installed in the center of the target in all the matches. “Everyone started clapping for her and I had to be on my own. While they were making a lot of noise, it was my turn to shoot and I said ‘no way, it’s my turn it is what it is’. Then I don’t remember when it was, if it was in the decisive set, but she shot an arrow very badly.”

It was the fourth set, decisive for Lorig as she was behind 4-2. The first two arrows she shot were the 10 to the center of the camera, an 8 and the arrow that Mariana tells us about, a 6. Mariana’s arrows up to that moment were a 9 and 7.

“The wind was unbelievable, it was too strong, which deflected your arrows. But you had to compensate well. I saw the wind sock and then I saw the flags that were there and I thought ‘the wind is blowing in all directions’. I would aim where I thought it could be and they would fall well, but it still took me a while because of the wind that was moving and you don’t have time to go down with the arrow. Because 20 seconds is not enough. I had to shoot yellow at that moment on the last arrow and I got it. Obviously you always want to close with a 10, but whatever you shoot is good, as long as it’s yellow and it landed in the 9. That’s what helped me to win that medal,” recalls Avitia.

“It was really great to hear that Mariana had won,” said Román, “and now it was my turn. It was the nerves, the excitement of going out as if it were a bullring. You go out and [see] the huge stadium, lots of people, a great vibe. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every arrow, every match. I went all out and it was an incredible day. It was one of those days so exciting that sometimes you don’t even believe it because of how beautiful it was.”

Aida Roman faced Ki Bo Bae of Korea in the final for the gold. After the fifth set both archers had 5 set points and the match was defined in a shoot-off. Ki shot first with the wind still strong, an 8 that left the door open for Roman. The sigh of astonishment was heard throughout the stadium. It was Aida’s turn to shoot, but with the wind anything could happen. Roman also shot an 8.

“I came out a little confused because I had aimed it a little further out so it would fall more to the center.” recalls Roman. “I said ‘How did it land there!’ I couldn’t believe it, I had almost compensated in the 7 almost 6 in the shoot-off arrow. But well that was it, no one was going to take that silver medal away from me.”

“Sadly the rule had already changed,” Roman continues. “Before if you had the same value, you could repeat the shoot-off, but the rule had already changed. The closest one was [the one who won]. I said ‘it is what it is, it was not possible’. But it gave me a lot of joy, a lot of peace of mind that I lost until the end. It wasn’t 6-0 like the Koreans usually win. It was a shoot-off. It was great, it was a very nice event and I remember it with a lot of joy.”

This was the first time that two Mexican women shared the podium at the Olympic Games in archery. “It’s an experience that even gives you goosebumps,” recalls Avitia, “especially when you hear the music of Chariots of Fire. It was really something beautiful. Besides, the stage was in my favorite color, which is purple, so everything was meant to be. Also the moment when they gave me my medal, when they named me and to see that there are two Mexicans on the podium in the Olympic Games is obviously a very, very, very big emotion”. 

“When I was walking towards the podium I said ‘mission accomplished’,” recalls Román. “That gave me a lot of peace of mind because we complied with the goal, both Mariana and me. ‘I can die in peace.’ Obviously you see your medal and you say ‘wow, I really don’t believe it. Is it for real?’ Those are still things I keep thinking about and say ‘wow’. Sometimes I don’t believe it, but I go to my parents’ house and I see the medal there.”

“I gave it to them after the 2017 earthquake.” continues Aida. “[the medal] was in my house all the time but I used to live in an apartment and I got really scared and I said ‘I don’t want my memories to disappear under a building.’ So my parents have them both, the world championship medal and the Olympic Games medal in their little box and in the glass cabinet.”

“Of course I want to live that experience again,” said Avitia, “because they are some of the most beautiful emotions I’ve had in my life, besides the emotion of being a mom. I think they are the two things that have left a mark on me, especially sharing the podium with a teammate. What a beautiful experience to know that my whole family, my brothers and my parents were there at that moment, the moment that was going to be the most important moment of my life.

“In fact, my dad was not in good health at that time.,” Mariana said. “He had a heart problem,he had to have surgery, but he obviously wanted to come to see me. He wasn’t allowed to travel, but the doctor gave him the green light to go just because it was the Olympic Games and only because his daughter was going to compete. And my mom said to me ‘with the London walks, I thought your dad was on his last leg. Your dad was very excited, shouting like crazy, like never before. I was more worried about his health than he was’.”

“The good thing is that nothing serious happened. But I think these are opportunities not to be missed. I know that my brothers and my parents will never forget it and it is an experience that will be unforgettable for all of us and for the whole family.”

The fact that these two Mexicans had conquered the Olympic podium was no coincidence. It was a constant work that was already visible since the last Olympic cycle. In Beijing 2008, Juan René Serrano came in fourth place and 14-year-old Mariana Avitia finished in the top 8. 

“It wasn’t just that the magic wand [appeared] with the women’s archery,” mentions Román. “No, it was a collaborative effort because we were also competing against the men. I feel that a lot of that is because of collaborative work. It’s not only the archers, but also the coaches who were supporting us from the outside; the families themselves were very passionate about supporting us and not obstructing us. I think that knowledge, experiences, desires and wishes came together. I think it was a little bit of everything that added up and we brought back those two medals.”

“Also the fact that that particular administration, the managers loved us very much,” Roman continues. “You could see the affection they really felt for their athletes. You could also see that they went out of their way for us. I think I can say that this made me very happy, it gave me a lot of peace of mind and a lot of calm. They didn’t impose goals on you, it was more like they accompanied you so that you could reach your goals.”

These two medals had a great impact in Mexico. All over the country people became interested in the sport and many boys and girls wanted to practice it. “At the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) I was told that they had 5,000 visitors,” recalls Roman. In general, new schools were opened, shooting fields were expanded and archery began to be practiced in states of this country where it was not practiced before.

“Where I trained in Nuevo Leon, there were too many kids who already wanted to start this sport all because of that.” recalls Avitia. “How something like Olympic medals give a lot of impact on kids to practice a sport. I’ve always thought so. It’s always going to be a motivation if they see you on TV or something, you’re always going to be someone’s motivation. That’s how we did it, we made history and at the same time that helped the new generations a lot.”

“For example, Valentina is 19 years old, Ana Paula is about to turn 22, and the other girls who are in the reserve group are Paulina Garza and Paola Saucedo, one is 20 and the other 18. They were all very young and have told us ‘I saw you and I really want to be there’.”

But not everything has been easy after winning these medals. “The truth is that the athlete is always compelled to repeat his or her achievements,” commented Aida. “I came to Rio under a lot of pressure. I started to have problems with one of the directors. It was also very complicated because they hindered a lot of the work of our federation. The legal issue with Effy (former president of the Mexican Archery Federation) continues to this day. I think that has been very difficult. The fact that someone hinders your work to the point of demanding too much from you.”

“Not for Tokyo anymore,” continues Roman. “For Tokyo I already felt very calm. Obviously there are some people who demand you to bring all the results and if you don’t bring them, people get frustrated. But they are few. Most people are very happy that you can participate in the Olympic Games, that you can continue to fulfill your dreams of Olympic participation and if you get a medal, that’s great and if you don’t, that’s good too. Not everyone can attend an Olympic Games.”

Despite the flow of people brought by these two medals to the world of archery in Mexico, one thing is clear to these Olympic medalists, if Mexico wants to continue to grow as a power, there must be more competitions in the country. “There needs to be more competition in the country,” said Avitia. “Yes, obviously there have been, but I think [there is a need for more] at the level of all categories as well as at the Nationals. I think it would be good if there were two or three more a year. Many go without competing all year.”

“For example,” says Aida, ” since I am no longer a junior or university athlete, if I am left out of the national team, I have no events to attend; and the only events I could attend are the ones in the United States and there would not be too many opportunities. There needs to be more opportunities for people who would like to aspire to be part of the national team but also that it should not be so expensive for them.”

Nevertheless, both archers are optimistic about Mexico’s future in archery. We still have a long way to go before we can try to be something like Korea,” says Román. “We lack a lot, we lack a lot of industry, we lack schools, we lack more support, but there are already many people who have the idea of wanting to be number one and they are working for it.”

“I see more coaches being prepared,” Roman continues. “I think that in general it is growing, coaches, judges or the old national athletes have already become coaches and they bring a lot of knowledge. That part of preparation and updates is already starting to happen. I see that it is going to take many more years but I believe that the knowledge is already beginning to be in the country and is already staying. I believe that we do see great aspirations, at least the new generations are transmitting it.”

“In these past Olympics we managed to win an Olympic medal in mixed teams,” commented Avitia. “I see Mexico obviously winning more Olympic medals. What more would I want than to see all of them win in a single Olympic Games as individual, mixed and team medals in both categories. I still see Mexico as a power, that it continues to grow worldwide and let’s hope that Mexico continues to be seen as a country that is a power. Years ago it was not a very strong country, now it is.”

Mexico will host the archery World Cup final from October 15-16 this year.