“I was quite serious at the time,” Naomi Folkard insists.

She wasn’t bluffing. She really did contemplate retiring after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The decorated recurve archer was just 20 years old when she attended her first Olympics as the youngest member of the Great Britain archery team at Athens 2004.

Rio was her fourth Olympics, and her fourth appearance on archery’s biggest stage – the culmination of a fourth four–year training cycle.

A career-best ascension to the quarterfinals, she determined, wasn’t enough to keep her around. Folkard was 32 years old and ready for something different. She wanted something new. She wanted a life outside of competitive archery.

“Everything you do revolves around your sport,” explained Folkard, who made her international debut in 1996, at the age of 12. “Every decision you make, you have to think, ‘Does it affect my archery?’ Is it going to impede or impact my sport?’”

But a series of fortuitous incidents conspired to keep her around. First, Folkard’s boyfriend, Jon, entered her into a competition without her knowledge, rekindling a love of shooting that she’d thought was left behind. Then she accepted a grant from UK Sport for her efforts, signalling a willingness to consider other options.

“That’s a really huge carrot to dangle,” she said, recalling her shift in attitude. “Suddenly, before I knew it, I wasn’t retired anymore.”

Turns out, she still had more to offer. In June 2019, Folkard joined teammates Bryony Pitman and Sarah Bettles to win bronze at the Hyundai World Archery Championships in the Netherlands. Her performance “in ’s-Hertogenbosch also assured Great Britain of the maximum number of quota places for next year’s Tokyo Olympics”, the UK press reported.

“Assured”, of course, had a different meaning back then. Qualifying for the Olympics is difficult enough, after all, without having a pandemic virus to account for. But after resisting the temptation to quit and succumbing to the allure of an Olympic medal, Folkard, 37, finds herself at a crossroads once again.

“So much work goes into getting ready for an Olympics, and now it’s in jeopardy because of the pandemic,” Folkard said recently. “Everything has become so sporadic. We’ve had to look at things entirely differently.”

The Olympic Games, perhaps the most complex event to organise in the world, are just one of the many major occasions affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Preparations have been delayed, facilities have closed and opened and closed again, and all sorts of questions have proliferated.

Confronted by the disruption in their schedules and the growing obstacles to training imposed by the virus, archers aiming to win a medal in Tokyo are adjusting on the fly as they grapple with this unexpected shift in reality. 

“It’s definitely taken some getting used to,” said the USA’s Casey Kaufhold, who has trained in solitude throughout much of quarantine. “You work so hard, and then everything changes so abruptly. It’s hard to keep your goals in check when you can’t predict the future.”

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