Earlier this year, it was announced Bryony Pitman had made the Great Britain team for Archery for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which will mark her first senior Olympics after she’d missed out in 2016 at Rio, where she had been on the reserve list. With the pandemic halting competitions, Bryony returned to competing in September, and in January this year, she took part in the Indoor Archery World Series Online event and later this month, she is set to compete at the World Cup in Paris. Bryony has been ranked UK no. 1 since 2016 and during her time at senior level, she has won a number of medals including Team Gold at the Minsk 2019 European Games and an Individual Bronze at the Mokrice 2019 European Field Archery Championships. Before competing as a senior, Bryony was a junior World and European medallist and became European Junior Champion. Chatting with Bryony, she speaks about the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with Team GB, returning to competitions during the pandemic and her archery success so far.
You’ve been announced to join the Great Britain team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, how did it feel finding out you’d be in the team?
The way our selection process worked out meant that I was one of only three women to qualify for selection and since we had three Olympic spots we didn’t have any trials. It was kind of a mixture of excitement and relief knowing that I was going to the Olympics but also that we didn’t have the stress of trials and could just focus on preparing. That was March 2020, so it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster since then but I’m incredibly happy and proud to be part of the team! It feels like the hard work is starting to pay off!
What are you most looking forward to for being part of Team GB in Tokyo?
Just to have the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage is amazing. We have a strong team and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do. Although Tokyo will no doubt be different to other Olympics, I’m still excited for the whole experience of a multi-sport event and I’m proud to be able to represent Team GB again.
How will you prepare for the competition and what is a typical training day for you?
At the moment I’m trying to do any competitions and scoring I can to get back into it so it becomes normal again after the lockdown. Archery is such a mental sport so I’ll be focusing a lot on getting a good shot process and working on positive affirmations too.
On a typical training day I start with a strength session at the gym, then I shoot either five meters at home (for higher volumes and repetition) or 70 meters at my club. At the moment I shoot 300-400 arrows per day, normally split into two sessions. Depending on where we are in the season, sometimes I’ll just shoot normally and other times I’ll have a series of drills to go through to help with timing, strength and fine control. Then I go for a run to get in some cardio too.
How has it been returning to competitions during the pandemic?
My first competition in seven months last September was pretty bad! It just took a while to get back into competition timing and get used to dealing with adrenaline again. I went to the National Tour finals the day after though and shot really well so I got back into it pretty quickly! I’m lucky that archery is a sport that can be easily socially distanced and stuff so outdoor competitions haven’t felt much different to pre-COVID. The World Cup we had last week was my first international outdoor competition in almost two years. I had a lot more adrenaline than I expected (which doesn’t help when you need to be steady!) but I handled it well so hopefully it’ll get easier again going forwards.
Can you tell us about the Indoor Archery World Series Online event that was held in January?
World Archery held an online competition to replace the Indoor World Cups that couldn’t go ahead. Each month between November and February they had one weekend where anyone in the world could enter, they just had to shoot it with two witnesses to confirm the score. I was able to take part in the January stage but it was quite strange. I felt similar pressures to as if it was a competition, but at the same time it felt nothing like a competition as I just shot it with a teammate and a coach. My score wasn’t great as I hadn’t prepared very well for it but it was good to see where I needed to improve. It was a really great idea from World Archery especially as they held finals in February so it gave people all around the world something to train for.
You won an Individual Bronze at the Mokrice 2019 European Field Archery Championships, how was this?
That was a really awesome event for me. I knew that my scores from the previous two European Championships would have won the senior women’s competition (I’d competed as a junior at both of those), so I went in knowing that I could come away with a medal. In 2018, the competition format for field archery changed so that now if you qualify in the top two you get an automatic place in the semi-finals. During qualification I shot a personal best by ten points and ended up ranking first. Although I lost the semi-final, I shot well in both that match and the bronze match so I was proud that I made it to the podium. It was a huge confidence boost and ended my 2019 season perfectly.
At the Minsk 2019 European Games, you were part of the Great Britain team that won Gold, how was your experience at this event?
It was such an amazing feeling being part of Team GB and to win a Gold medal there just made the experience even better. It was a long trip away as we’d competed at the World Championships first and then travelled straight onto Minsk. My grandad had passed away on the first day of the World Championships so it was a very emotional time for me, especially not being able to go home, but I was really proud of how I managed it and how I shot at both events, it made the medals even more special. We won Team Bronze at Worlds, got the full Olympic quota and then Gold in Minsk was just the cherry on top. As a team it put us in a good place to be realistic contenders for a medal in Tokyo.
Can you tell us about some of your other highlights from your senior career so far?
I’ve been UK no. 1 since 2016 and won indoor, outdoor and field national titles. I’ve won the Archery GB National Tour final twice, in 2018 and 2020. In 2016, I won the first stage of the Indoor World Cup circuit in Marrakech, it came after a year of collecting Silver medals at most events so that win was a really special one. I’ve also qualified for three Indoor World Cup Finals. In 2016, I was also reserve for the Rio Olympics. Missing out on those games really motivated me to train harder for Tokyo.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time competing as a junior which saw you as a World and European medalist and European Junior Champion?
My favourite memories are of my first year on the team. I won my first international medal at the European Junior Championships in 2012 where we came second as a team. A month later I was part of the Gold winning junior team at the World Field Championships. We always sent big teams to junior events (and field), I had such a laugh with everyone and would talk about the trip for weeks after. In 2014, I competed at the Youth Olympic Games. I struggled with an elbow injury that year so my shooting wasn’t good but it was great to have a taste of what it was like to be part of Team GB at a multi-sport event. My final year as a junior was 2017 and I shot some really good scores. Winning the European Youth Cup after five years of trying was one of the highlights.
How do you find the experience competing around the world?
I absolutely love it, I wouldn’t want to do anything else! Being able to travel and represent my country doing something I love makes all the hours of training and hard work worth it. I’ve done and seen so much more through archery than I would’ve done otherwise and I’ve made some amazing friends all around the world.
Have you been given any advice that has stayed with you during your career so far and what would you say is the most challenging aspect of being an archer?
My dad has always told me to enjoy it. If I’m not enjoying it and I don’t want to be at a competition then what’s the point? That has really helped me as I’ve got older and my expectations got higher because finding the fun in shooting helps me to relax and shoot my best. It is really easy to overthink every little detail in archery because you are trying to do something so precisely which then makes you tense up and shoot worse because there are so many more inconsistencies in the shot. Enjoying the process of shooting has helped me overcome this.
How did you first get into archery and at what age did you start competing?
My dad competed on the British Field Archery team years ago and was part of the mens team that won the World Field Championships in 1998. Growing up around his medals and hearing his stories of where he’d been sounded really cool and I wanted to do the same. I started archery in 2008 when I was eleven and I started competing two months in. I started with small local junior competitions and then slowly worked my way up through county/regional/national level events.
What do you enjoy doing away from archery?
Reading, travelling and anything crafty.
Do you have any competitions ahead of the Olympics and how do you stay focused during an event?
We were supposed to have quite a few international events since April but COVID stopped us from travelling because of quarantine restrictions. The European Championships are being held this week and we’ve had to skip it because Turkey is on the red list. We are due to leave for another World Cup in Paris in three weeks but we aren’t sure if we can still go at the moment. That’ll be our last event before the Games. There are a couple of national tournaments on the next couple of weekends too.
During an event I focus on shooting one arrow at a time and making every shot count. We shoot ends of six arrows in four minutes and usually there’s a bit of time between ends where I like to read or chat about anything that’s not archery, it helps me stay relaxed. If things aren’t going to plan I have a notebook with different technical things to focus on so that I take my mind off the score.
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