Keith Hanlon Q&A: The first day I shot the bow, it was an ‘Oh yeah, I like that’ type of feeling

Keith Hanlon will be shooting for Ireland in the World Archery Field Championships at Killruddery House, Bray next week. The veteran archer has competed in all 12 Target World Championships since 1993 and at the 1996 Olympic Games.

Q: How did you first get into archery?

A: I took it up by chance 28 years ago — an ex-girlfriend was going to do a course and asked me if I’d like to try it. I said I’d give it a go and from the moment I picked it up I loved it. Just over a year later I was on my first national team.

Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m originally from the Northside of Dublin and I came out to Blessington Lake 23 years ago. Myself and the wife were looking for somewhere to build and she used to shoot as well, so one of the main criteria was that we have a shooting range with the house. We got an opportunity to get a piece of land here that was ideal, with a 90-metre stretch to practice on.

Q: Is there a set amount of practice you do each week?

A: I’d want to be shooting at least 500 to 1,000 arrows per week to stay on top of what I want to be doing. Leading up to big competitions I’ll be working harder and then I’ll start to taper off.

Q: Does work have to fit around your archery career so?

A: (Laughs) Strangely enough, ten years ago there was one archery shop in Ireland and a very good friend of mine was giving out that he didn’t get the stuff he needed or wanted there. This was a thing that was recurring all the time. Our coach heard us and said, ‘Why don’t ye do something about it?’ So we set up an archery shop and I converted my garage for it. It’s still going — this is my full-time job now. And I can train at home when I haven’t got customers.

Q: When you’re shooting, does the weather have a big impact?

A: Yes, it does. Fortunately, if you’re inside a deep wood, you don’t get too many problems with the wind or rain. But I went to my first World Field Championships eight years ago in Wales and from the day we arrived it rained, and rained heavy. Right through the whole tournament it lashed rain. Two ladies slipped and fell, and hurt themselves. They had to bring in the mountain rescue to take them off the hill. I was going up the hill and it was like a torrent — a river — coming straight down at me. It was that difficult. But that’s an extreme — it doesn’t normally happen that way.

Q: You were at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta…

A: I was the last person to go to an Olympics from Ireland for archery. It’s just so difficult to get spots — there are only 64 places worldwide. I’ve tried out for every Olympics since and I’ve been close. But we’re such a small country it’s difficult to compete with the larger pools, their resources and backing. Unfortunately, we live in a very windy country and our fields are usually stuck up on the side of a hill or open to all the elements. The weather factor is hard.

Q: Would practising in the wind not help you improve?

A: You’d think that but, as my old coach said to me, you become wind sensitive. The wind starts blowing at you and the muscles tighten up to push against it. You lose your whole dynamic of shooting and you blow the shot.

Q: What are your memories of the Olympics?

A: I only found out the place had been given to me three days before the plane left. I got in touch with my coach who lives in Holland, he got himself sorted and we met up over there. At the time it was what we had worked for and wanted, and we just got straight into the training plan. I shot a national record over there and finished 22nd. The place itself was wonderful, awe-inspiring. You’re seeing people you’d only have seen before on TV.

Q: Are there certain countries that tend to excel in archery?

A: The Koreans are renowned to be the best. Just before the ’88 Olympics they took it upon themselves to pick five sports to excel at. They stuck at it and they are machines when it comes to shooting. They started schools where they go and do their education in an archery school. Once they’re finished their education for the day, they’ll go off and train, or they’ll get up and train before they go to school and then come back to train again. They start with 300 or 400 people and within the first three months that’ll be cut in half. Then another six months later that’ll be cut in half. They just keep whittling it down to the very best.

Q: How much of achieving success is psychological, and how much is physical?

A: I’d liken it to golf. I even found that when I was playing golf, if I was hitting the ball well and playing well, my archery was brilliant. But it went the other way too, so if I wasn’t playing well, my archery wasn’t good. You’re trying to repeat the same thing over and over again. If you can imagine, I shoot 70 metres at a four-inch target which is the 10 (the innermost ring on the target), so the slightest movement I make when I’m letting that arrow go, it’s exponential, it just keeps drifting. Your mind has to be on what you’re doing, not listening to what’s going on behind you or drifting off into ‘What am I going to have for dinner?’ So the mental side can be quite taxing.

Q: Given that it’s 20 years since Atlanta, what is it about the sport that keeps you coming back?

A: It’s the love of it. The first day I shot the bow, it was an ‘Oh yeah, I like that’ type of feeling. I was heavily into judo and I was trying out for Irish teams at that time, but within the year of me taking up archery I’d let it all go. I’ve still got that feeling when I get up in the mornings to go and shoot a few hours. It’s still in me. I’m 50 now, but I’ll still practice, I’ll still shoot, I’ll still take on the guys and that drives me. I’m out to win and I don’t want to give it up. The body is probably telling me it’s about time, but I’ll keep going.


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