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. This was the first time Mexico won a medal in archery, or rather two, in an Olympic Games. It was also the second country in the Americas after the United States to reach the Olympic podium in this discipline.
It was undoubtedly an unforgettable moment for these archers as well as for their country and the memories of this odyssey are still fresh in their memory. “The memories that come to my mind that August 2, 2012 are many, they are many because it is a historic moment, a moment that was marked in my life and winning an Olympic medal in a stage as important as London has a great impact,” recalls Avitia. “It all comes to my mind as if it had been yesterday even though many years have passed.”
The archery competitions in London were held at the cricket stadium from July 27 to August 3, 2012. “That field for me has been one of the most beautiful fields that has had an Olympic stage; because the Lord’s Cricket Ground stadium has a great impact and I think it also had to do with the way they made the scenery and the stands. There were a lot of people,” recalls Román.
The journey from the Olympic Village to this magnificent stage was less extraordinary and rather long and uncomfortable, as Aida recalls. “We knew it was going to take quite a long time to get from the Olympic Village to the shooting field, so I already had certain movies or certain things programmed so I wouldn’t get bored on the way. Because we weren’t on those luxury buses that you can lie down on. These were rigid plastic seats. Plus you were going to be sitting there for an hour and they weren’t going to be as comfortable.”
The scenario was looking good after the qualifiers for the Mexican team, which had arrived with a medal in its mind for these Games. Mariana Avitia qualified in 10, Aída Román in 11 and Alejandra Valencia in 13. Together they qualified in 4th place in the women’s recurve team. “We knew that we already had several years of being a team power and the truth is that they expected us to win a team medal.” recalls Avitia.
However, it was a different story. The women’s team was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Japan 219-209, who ended up winning the bronze medal, and the men’s recurve team placed fourth. They lost the bronze medal match to Korea 224-219, when team matches were still shot by accumulative points instead of set points. “It was a very hard blow,” Roman recalls.
But all was not lost. There were still the individual eliminations to go, “we were also very strong individually and [we knew] we could do it,” mentioned Avitia. “I think that helped us a lot, having that optimism and also having the desire to want to achieve and want to win an Olympic medal.”
On the first day of eliminations, Roman won his ticket to the round of 16. “I was the first, the only one shooting that day. The next day Rene and Mariana shot. On the third day it was Alejandra, El Abuelo and Lalo’s turn to compete, so that’s how it happened. I won my first two games, Mariana won her two games and Rene stayed in the second match. From that point on we knew how our brackets were and we knew that we would be facing each other in the semifinals”, as long as they won their quarterfinal match.
The possibility of two Mexicans facing each other in the London semifinals didn’t cross many people’s minds, but it did for the archers’ families. “My brother Santiago saw the brackets and said ‘if everything falls into place they are going to face each other’.” recalls Avitia. “He already knew that at some point we could face each other in the semifinals and [said] “yes they are going to win a medal.” He had already set everything up, ‘they’re going to face each other in the semifinals and they’re going to go to the final for gold and bronze’.”
A day before the round of 16, there were still three Mexicans in the competition: Alejandra Valencia, Eduardo Vélez and Luis Álvarez (el Abuelo). “It was my turn to be the agent of my teammates,” recalls Román, “Alejandra, Lalo and El Abuelo. It was my turn to see them all lose and I was terrified. However, at the end of that day, I went out and saw my parents. I was super stressed and super nervous.”
“Please, I don’t want to lose!” thought Aida at the time. “And it’s my turn against the Japanese who had already beaten us in the quarterfinals in the team. I was very sensitive. In the end my dad said to me, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be able to do very well. Look, we are going to do this, go hug that little tree and it will give you all its positive energy”. At the end they calmed me down a little bit. I feel like it was one of those great moments with your family, of comfort, reassurance of “nothing is going to happen, really do your best, you’re going to make it.” They [were] very calm and I was super nervous, but they conveyed that calmness to me that in the end, the next day, it went super well.”
August 2 was the last day of competition for the women’s division. In the first match, Mariana Avitia faced Karina Rosenvinge of Denmark and Aida Roman faced Kanie Miki of Japan. “Before leaving the Village, the bedrooms, Mariana and I hugged each other and told each other “See you in the semifinal”. Those are some of the most beautiful memories I have. From there we walked away. We went to the dining room, had breakfast and went to the bus stop that was going to take us to our destination. From that point on, little by little we focused on our games, on our dynamic.
Both archers won their first match, Roman 7-3 and Avitia 6-2. “They were very difficult matches. Without a doubt with every archer I faced in those Olympics it was always a challenge and the best match for me was against the Korean in the quarterfinals.” recalls Avitia. “I also knew it was going to be a very complicated match and it was also my own challenge to beat a Korean woman yes or yes. Even if I have points against, I know that many people were cheering for the Korean, but I had to give my best to win it.”
Lee Sung Jin was the Korean Avitia faced. Lee already had three Olympic medals at the time, an individual silver in Athens and two team golds in both Athens and the London Games. “As she had already been a medalist before, she was obviously seen as one of the first in those Games and when I eliminated her, everyone was paralyzed because there was only one Korean and two Mexicans left,” Avitia recalls. “Those results were not expected, but at the end of the day archery is a surprise. Even if you have your favorites, you don’t know if they’re really going to be the ones to win a medal and that’s how it was with us.”
Both Avitia and Roman won their quarterfinal matches 6-2. “When I heard that Mariana had won the quarterfinal match against the Korean, I was celebrating on the practice field,” Román recalls. “There was the stadium and on one side were the practice fields. But there were two fields, the one for qualifying and the one before your match, where they gave you about four practice rounds before your match. So I was there practicing because I had already made it to the semifinals. When I heard that Mariana had made it to the semifinals, won the quarterfinals, it was the most beautiful thing I could have heard. ‘Wow thank God you have given us that blessing that two Mexicans are facing each other in an Olympic semifinal.’”
“The first thing I thought was “whoever wins is going to do a great job, Mexico has already made history” continues Roman. “When the match started, we were both very nervous, as if we were releasing all the stress, all the pressure of ‘we are here, what a thrill’ and it showed a little because the scores were a little low at the beginning. However, when I managed to refocus I said ‘No, it’s now or never. Focus and determine that you’re going to do your best.’ And I won 6-4.”
“I think that’s when I lost my concentration a little bit because we just went in with one coach,” recalls Avitia. “Coach Lee [Woong] and Miguel Flores were there. Miguel could very well have come in with me, but due to orders he couldn’t.” Coach Lee could only stay in a position behind one of the two archers due to the rulebook. “He stayed with me,” mentioned Roman, “the judge told him ‘no sir, you can’t move, you have to be there’ and it was too late, the match had already started and Miguel didn’t come in to support Mariana. I’m sorry, but it was a bit selfish of him to award himself those two results”.
Despite this incident,Graham Potts, the judge assigned to that match, remembers this match as “one of the nicest, happiest matches I have judged on the line.” “To be honest, I relaxed a little bit,” Avitia continues, recalling, “as I was used to shooting with my teammate, I said ‘well, whatever happens’. Those were thoughts that should never have happened. At the end of that match I said ‘No, I’m in a bad way. I have to reset my mind and go back to what I was doing before if I want to win that 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’.”
In the following post you can read how Aida Roman and Mariana Avitia experienced the medal matches and the impact these medals had for their country.