Interview with Alison Williamson - March 2003

Treble Olympian Alison Williamson

Age 31
Born Leicester, resides London.
South Bank University, PGCE, 1 year (final semester)

First of all thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Student Olympians and sportswomen of your stature are rare. Congratulations on your performance on Saturday. Do all your scores get gasped at?

No not usually.

How did you enjoy the tournament?

I thought the number of entries was amazing and was very impressed with the overall standard of everyone taking part Ė some of those novice scores were outstanding. Itís a pity there are no other archers at SBU because then you get that team spirit and camaraderie that was evident in some of the other uni clubs.

Are you pleased with the way you shot, given that you exceeded the British record for Ladies Recurve Portsmouth by two points? (593 to 591 - BUSA is not a record status event.)

The score was good so I was pleased with that and I donít really shoot that many indoor competitions. I shot at an invitational shoot in Mexico in January which was a FITA 18m and I was pleased with my result there and my last competition indoors before that was in January 2002 in another invitational shoot this time in Korea. And I recently changed my bow from an Avalon to an Aerotec so Iím still getting used to the way it feels and reacts.

What are you studying at South Bank?

Iím taking a PGCE to be a Primary school teacher and Iím currently on my final teaching practice at a wonderful school in Elmers End.

Why did you decide to become a student?

I graduated from university (in the States) back in 1995 and I havenít really done a Ďproperí job ever. Though for the past couple of years I was working in a secondary school as a learning support assistant for pupils with special needs. I enjoyed working in a school but knew that I would probably enjoy working with younger children so I started volunteering help at my old primary school (where my first teacher was now the Head) and helping out with after school sports clubs and things like that. Time wise I knew that I really wanted to do something to further my career options before the next Olympics so a PGCE seemed like the best optionsÖ.little did I know! The workload is phenomenal and the amount of paperwork is staggering but I hope I can hang in there till the end.

When I first saw your name on the BUSA entry form I thought might be a coincidence - at Edinburgh, there was a fresher who joined the club in about 1997 whose name was Simon Needham. Why have you chosen to compete at BUSA Indoors this year?

When I was away in Mexico I received an email from the Sports Union rep at South Bank attaching a BUSA entry form and I wrote back and told her I thought I was too old to compete. Fortunately there is no upper age limit! This was the first time Iíve been eligible to compete at a BUSA champs because when I was an undergrad I was studying at an American university.

There was a considerable degree of excitement surrounding your entry, but also a fair amount of "Who is Alison Williamson?" How did you get started in archery and could you give us a brief synopsis of your archery career to date.

I started shooting when I was 6 or 7 Ė itís that long ago I canít remember. My parents are both archers so they introduced me to the sport. I started entering competitions when I was about 9 years old and havenít really stopped since. I was selected for a junior team in 1986 and went to Italy Ė loved every minute and was determined to make the team again. I made my first senior team in 1988 and have been on the team every year since. I made my first Olympic team in 1992 Barcelona and have competed at Atlanta and Sydney. I have dabbled with field but can no-way claim to be any good at it. Iíve also played around with a compound back a few years ago Ė just for fun. Last year I had a go at barebow during my Ďbreakí time just so I was still shooting but not competitively and I wanted to learn a new skill.

What have been your favourite moments?

Lots and lots. Walking out of the tunnel into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics will stay with me forever. Placing 4th at the World Champs in China in 2001 after doing really crap in the qualifying round. I had managed to drag myself up to have one of my best performances ever in the head-to-heads. I won the silver at the 1999 World Champs and was bitterly disappointed with my performance and did not enjoy the moment, in fact I was completely devastated at the time and bawled my eyes out for ages afterwards. The result in China put things into perspective so it kind of buried the demons from 1999. I was also honoured to shoot the first arrow in the Beiter training centre which was a very special moment considering all the help the Beiter family have given me over the years.

What other competitions will you be shooting/have you shot this year. Will you be at BUSA Outdoors?

This year is very busy as it is the qualifying year for the Olympics. Not only is there the European Grand Prix circuit, hopefully there will be the World Champs in New York (I have to qualify to make the team). There is also an invitational shoot in Korea so Iím away competing for much of May and June. As for the BUSA champs Ė Iím not sure, if it didnít clash with anything else I donít see why not.

Poor Dougie Donnelly from the BBC was clearly given very little information about archery, so all he could talk about (in your last 16 match at Sydney against Yun Mi-Jin (Korea), the eventual winner) was a good eye and a steady hand. Although it was great to see archery on the TV, this steadily became more and more infuriating. What can archery do to gain better/more publicity from the media?

Not a lot. Though the indoor invitational shoots that Iíve been to recently were very TV friendly and were broadcast live in their respective countries. So maybe we could jazz it all up a bit and have hooters and dry ice going off every time an X is shot in a head-to-head? These shoots also had huge financial backing from sponsors with a vested interest and to attract TV you usually need a fairly large pot of money. Most people think itís the other way round, that TV brings in the money [but] TV will only come if itís going to make them money.

After Sydney, how did you fire yourself up for shooting in a hall in Birmingham with a bunch of students?

I always set myself a goal for every tournament Ė whether I achieve it is a different matter. As Iím working towards a specific goal it doesnít really matter where Iím shooting.

Youíre not a professional archer - what is your day job and how do you balance it with top-level archery.

Iím not a professional archer as such but I am very fortunate to be lottery-funded. This hasnít been the case in the past and I just had huge debts Ė I think it took me till the Sydney Olympics to pay off my debts from the Atlanta Olympics and then it all starts again! However I am now funded so money isnít so much of an issue Ė I have enough to survive on without having to work.

Are you working on a specific aspect of technique or psychology and if so what is it?

Iím always working on something Ė probably not enough space to go into here. The key to technique is consistency and psychology is Ďfocus.í

There were exactly 100 novices scheduled to compete in BUSA Indoors 2003. What, in your opinion, are the most important pieces of both technical and psychological advice for novice archers.

Oooh I think I just answered that in the last question. But when you are first starting out you really have to shoot a lot of arrows Ė just remember to emphasise Ďqualityí when practising. If you set yourself a goal before the start of each session this brings in a level of Ďfocusí you donít have when you are just plonking away. There are too many plonkers in archery Ė but thatís because for a lot of people archery is their hobby, for me archery is my sport.

The total field for BUSA Indoor numbered at virtually 300, a tournament record. You must be pleased to see this competition succeeding in such a manner.

Itís brilliant Ė very impressive.

I noticed that you are not a member of the UK team going to the World Indoor Championships in Nimes. Did you decide not to compete?

It would have been impossible to go to Nimes during my final teaching practice.

Do you think being a GNAS event would add to the BUSA Championships?

I would imagine so. I think there are a lot of people within GNAS who are completely oblivious to the number of students who are regularly involved in the sport. There is the whole untapped resource of talent and volunteers who are underused and really unacknowledged.

With Naomi Folkard shooting for Birmingham, BUSA Indoor 2003 had two world ranked ladies recurves. Did that add a bit of spice to the tournament for you?

Itís good to have competition and I guessed that Naomi would be shooting at it was on home soil.

I saw a picture of the stadium they are intending to use for archery in Athens and it looks magnificent. Is it your intention to try to qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004? How about Beijing in 2008?

Iím definitely trying out for Athens Ė as for Beijing, never say never.

If London is awarded the 2012 games, would you want to compete in front of your home crowd? How big a difference does a watching crowd make?

Talking to anyone who competed in Manchester at the Commonwealth Games last year does make you realise that competing at home does make a difference. We hosted the World Indoors in 1995 and it was nice to have that support. When you are at big tournaments and youíre in the final stages of the competition you really tend not to notice the ground Ė it all becomes a blur.

You are the first woman I have had as a UKSAA interviewee. There were almost twice as many male competitors as female at BUSA yet in a combined recurve field, the first gent would not have won a medal. Why do you think this is and what can be done to encourage more female archery?

Maybe reporting the male to female ratio within the sport would be one way? I donít know. I guess to an outsider archery can be seen as quite a Ďnerdyí sport so thatís why women are put off Ė Iím not sure. Make sure club nights donít clash with "Sex and the City", Iím not sure but Iíll have a think about it and get back to you. You could interview more women!

Alison, thank you very much.