Olivia Hodgson has helped New Zealand win spots in archery at next year’s Tokyo Olympics – the first time in 16 years. Now she has to prove she’s the best woman for the task. 

Archery gets Olivia Hodgson’s heart racing. It’s a proven fact.

The 25-year-old from South Canterbury explains that mastering archery is all about dealing with cardiovascular stress.

“During a gold medal match, your heart rate will be about the same as when you’re doing a beep test,” Hodgson says. “So your heart’s pumping, even though you are standing on a line and shooting an arrow.” 

Keeping calm and collected is a major strength for archers – the smallest movement when releasing the arrow can greatly affect the execution of the shot.

With the centre of the target about the size of a CD, Hodgson says three millimetres of movement in her front arm can throw the arrow around almost a metre on the target.

To prove just how stressful it can be, Hodgson and other athletes ranked among the world’s best with a recurve bow had their heart rates measured with infrared cameras and state of the art technology during last month’s Ready, Steady, Go event in Tokyo – a test for next year’s Olympic Games.

“The cameras read our body temperature and heart rate, and some people who hadn’t had as much experience with having cameras and all that sort of stuff while they’re trying to shoot, their heart rates reached 180-200 beats per minute and spiked up and down,” she says.

Hodgson reckons her heart rate would have been around 170-180 bpm.

“The guy who’s the world champion, his heart rate is normally pretty low, and it reached 120 bpm and stayed pretty consistent,” she says.

Physical training is a huge part of her preparation regime, and to control her stress levels, Hodgson does a lot of crossfit-style workouts. They include strength and cardiovascular training to build her endurance muscles.

Hodgson also does two or three long training sessions with her coach each week – not to mention any spare time spent practicing on her targets, which she has both at work and at home.

And it’s all paying off for Hodgson, who has her aim set on the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m now ranked number one in Oceania, and I’ve just finished a 68-day tour around the world to try and solidify a spot, and build as much of a resume to say ‘hey, I’m the one that should be sent to Tokyo’,” she says.

Hodgson did her chances no harm by creating history at the Pacific Games in Samoa last month. She and Southlander Adam Kaluzny beat Australia in the mixed teams event to secure New Zealand a quota spot at next year’s Olympics.

In a one-arrow shoot-off, Hodgson and Kaluzny shot an eight and a 10 respectively, beating the Australian pair who shot two scores of eight.

New Zealand hasn’t had an archer at an Olympics since 2004, when Ken Uprichard competed at his second games.

Adam Kaluzny and Olivia Hodgson celebrate scoring two quota spots for NZ at next year’s Olympics. Photo: Lewis Hampton

Tokyo will be the first time that there is a gold medal for a mixed teams event – introduced to “embody the gender balance inherent in archery as a sport and at the Games”.   

Although Hodgson performed so well to secure New Zealand the spot – as the top Kiwi female after the initial ranking round – it doesn’t mean she can book her ticket to Tokyo just yet.

One New Zealand female and one male will be selected for the Olympics, but it hasn’t been decided who will be donning the black and white in the archery arena. Hodgson understands a trial event may be held before the end of the year.

Competition for that female spot will be fierce from Auckland archer Sarah Fuller and fellow up-and-coming archer Olivia Sloane – who shoots for the same club as Hodgson, the Aimtru Archers.

It was at that club in Christchurch that Hodgson was first introduced to archery as a youngster; first picking up an arrow because her brother was giving the sport a crack.

“I shot socially for a few years, but I also played football,” she says.

For seven years, archery took a back seat while Hodgson pursued football. But, when she was struck with an injury, it almost seemed timely to pick up where she left off with archery.

“My now-coach, Petra Baker, approached me to give me some coaching. I accepted, but I said I wouldn’t shoot competitively,” she says.

To Hodgson’s surprise, around six months later she was taking the sport seriously. In a truly Kiwi way, she decided to put her all into it – she’s not a very half-hearted person.

Hodgson’s recent travels allowed her to test her abilities in high pressure situations. She says her experience in Tokyo was second-to-none.

“We shot at the venue where the Olympics will be held so that athletes get the chance to read weather conditions, see what it’s going to be like, get used to the atmosphere and get used to the heat,” says Hodgson. “It was a really cool experience.”

Olivia finished mid-table, describing her match-play day as “shocking”. In archery, match play is the exciting head-to-head stage.

“I didn’t finish as well as I’d like to, but the goal of the tournament was to get the experience needed for next year,” she says.

Athletes like Hodgson who compete in a minority sport have to work full-time in order to fund themselves to go from competition to competition. Her time, she says, is spent working or training.

“I have to find the balance between working 40 hours per week and training anywhere between 15 and 30 hours per week,” she says. “In terms of sacrifice, it’s all about being able to shoot to the best of my ability.”

When she isn’t shooting targets or pushing herself through training sessions, she is working as an apprentice body mechanic at NZBMA, a clinic specialising in body massage in Christchurch.

Hodgson says her career choice goes hand-in-hand with archery, as learning about mechanics and how the body moves is a luxury many athletes don’t have.

“Archery is a big game of bone alignment, so if I can rotate in the right way and use my back muscles in the right way to line up all of my bones, they can take most of the pressure,” she says.

Hodgson’s passion for her job also means she has something to fall back on if she decides to put the bow and arrow away.

“Every athlete knows they have a time limit on how long they will be competing at a high level, which is why I’m really grateful for my job, and being able to work towards a career which is also being helped by archery and helps archery in turn.”

Kate Wells recently graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Communication and is a journalist at Sun Media in Tauranga.

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