Derbyshire Media Company managed to catch up with para-archer Hazel Chaisty recently to find out what her reflections were of her debut Paralympics at the recent Tokyo Games.
Chaisty, who lives in Glossop in North Derbyshire, reached the quarter-finals in both the women's individual recurve event and the mixed team recurve event alongside compatriot David Phillips out on the archery field.
Hazel finished in sixth place in the overall classification of her individual event and was delighted that she was able to achieve a top eight position, which was her ambition when we spoke to her before the start of the Games. Despite reaching the same stage of the team event, Chaisty was admittedly disappointed though with the manner of how her Paralympics campaign ended:
"I'm pretty happy with how I did now that I've reflected back on the Games. I was upset when we got knocked out of the mixed team event; not because we got knocked out at the quarter-final stage but because of the way in which we'd lost. That one just didn't come together for me at all. I was absolutely stoked though with my individual event. The open ranking round went great for me - I didn't lose my nerve and just scored nicely throughout the event. I ended up reaching the quarter-finals of the individual recurve event and I feel like I shot very well during the quarter-final too. I ended up finishing in sixth place overall which I'm absolutely chuffed to bits with. I've got to be happy with that. If someone had said this time last year that you'll finish in sixth place in the individual recurve at your first ever Paralympics then I'd have torn their arm off!"
In the quarter-final of the mixed team recurve event, Chaisty came up against formidable opponents in the form of Iran who would go on to win the head-to-head contest very comfortably. Hazel went into detail with us about the experience of her mixed team event at the Paralympics and why she was so hard on herself after the quarter-final defeat:
"Iran are ranked number one in the world for the mixed team recurve event. They were so confident ahead of our match. Unfortunately, there was a five hour gap between our Round of 16 match against Turkey and our quarter-final against Iran. So you had to wind yourself down, head back to the Village and then wind yourself back up and get ready for competition again in the evening of the same day. So we were now having to compete at night; the weather had also changed drastically by that point too. It was pouring down with rain by the time I was ready to shoot in the quarter-final. I remember releasing my first shot, it felt really solid, but it ended up going high; and I looked at my coach and said I'm not sure how that's ended up there. So what I should have done from that point onwards because of the weather conditions was to aim off in the opposite direction. You look at it like a clock face. So if normally you'd be shooting for one o'clock high, I should at that point have been aiming for seven o'clock low to compensate for the weather conditions - and I didn't do that and that was a real rookie error. I altered my sight instead and no matter how good my shots were, my sight was always out. I wasn't dialled in and I wasn't happy with how I shot in that contest. I guess nerves were heightened a little in that tie, knowing we were up against such class opposition in Iran, but I feel like we could have taken them on and made it much more of a contest. I feel responsible for that. Dave Phillips would never say it was just one person's fault because we're a team, but I did beat myself up over that one. But I'll be ready next time."
Hazel spoke to us in detail too about the scheduling of the para-archery competition. The open ranking event of the women's individual recurve took place early on in the Paralympics but Chaisty and the other recurve athletes then had to wait a number of days before competing in the head-to-head knock-out phase of the event. It was a strange process as Hazel explains:
"It was hard because our open ranking event isn't even proper competition. It's really official practice. I was so eager to get going. So eager in fact, that after I'd shot my first end of arrows in the open ranking event, it was announced on the tannoy that I'd shot the first arrow of the Tokyo Paralympics! I received a pin for that - I didn't even know that was a thing. I was so excited to receive that and I'll treasure that forever. But then, for the recurves, we had to take a back seat while all the other archery disciplines went ahead. So while all their competitions were going ahead, we were just practicing in the background so we didn't really have much chance to watch the competitions either. So that was quite an odd situation - I've never really done an event scheduled like that before. Sometimes, the entire knock-out phase of the recurve event can all take place on the same day as even your open ranking round. A five hour gap between one knock-out match before the next head-to-head encounter was quite unusual. But it was a good thing to learn - that's something I can work on with my coach. In a way, I'm glad that I've come back from Tokyo knowing that I can do a lot more. There's a lot I know I can work on now to get even better. Hopefully, by the time we come to Paris, I can be a medal contender for my events. We're only talking about winning one more head-to-head contest and then I'm in a medal match. So I know I'm close, really close."
The unique experience of the Tokyo Games has certainly left Hazel incredibly determined to also qualify for Paris 2024 and compete at a Games which will have packed crowds and a vibrant atmosphere:
"Absolutely. As far as Paris is concerned, I hope it is a much more interactive Games. It was sad that you couldn't mix with any other nations at the Tokyo Games just gone. It was such a shame as well that all the stands were practically empty, because the Japanese people had put so much effort into these Games and for it to look as incredible as possible. We usually call the venue where we compete either a range or a field - but in Tokyo, we were competing in an actual arena. It was begging for people to be there cheering and clapping. There was a tiny amount of people that could actually watch us perform - but they didn't half make some noise, mind! It was a real shame though that more people couldn't watch in Tokyo."
It was fair to say that Hazel was pretty overwhelmed by the amount of support she received back home in Glossop and also at the welcome she received when she finally returned to Derbyshire from Japan:
"People are just so incredible. I had no idea that so many people were following my progress. I commented a little bit on social media at the Games but I had no idea of the amount of people that were following me. I was sitting in a cafe recently in Glossop and someone leaned over and asked "Is your name Hazel?" and then said "Oh, you came sixth in your event" and I just thought, which strangers have been watching me? It never occurred to me that someone other than my mum and my sisters would be cheering me on. That was just fabulous. The support I received from my archery club as well as the support back in Glossop was just wonderful. When I came back home at about one in the morning, there were loads of banners and lights across my house. And then the next day, my mum organised for some of my friends who I'd not seen for a long time to come round to mine and have a cup of tea and a slice of cake and that was perfect. I'm not a big drinker, so tea and cake was just fine! I was expecting a bit of a crash after the Games. I know that quite a lot of athletes, once they're back home and rested after a Games, can be quite down as what they've been working on for a number of years has now come to an end. But I think, because I'd achieved what I wanted to and the fact that the World Championships is coming up pretty soon next year, I know that this is just a short break before I go off competing again. So I'm just really enjoying this little period of rest before the training ramps up properly again."
With the aforementioned Archery World Championships in Dubai coming up next year in February, Hazel was asked at the end our chat whether there's still any more big events to come up by the end of this calendar year:
"2022 will be a busy one but 2021 is not quite over with just yet. I've got a Masters event coming up this weekend actually. I'm not expecting too much from that as I've been on a break since the end of the Paralympics. So I'm just looking to go out there and enjoy that and spend some time with some fellow archers. There will probably be a couple of club competitions coming up in the near future too but then after that the season will be over. I'm not really an indoor archer, so I'll be spending the rest of 2021 in the wind and the rain at Goldcrest field where I train and just speaking to fellow archers at my club and just being H, rather than Hazel Chaisty, the Paralympian."