For James Lutz, the spring consisted of a lot more golf and a lot less archery.
Lutz, who won a world title in compound archery last year, turned to the links rather than the range after archery events were put on hold in March because of the coronavirus. The 22-year-old from Wisconsin didn’t touch his bow for about two months, a break he used to recharge.
“I think it kind of lit a fire in me that I really didn’t expect,” Lutz said.
On Tuesday, Lutz drove 15 hours to Richmond. On Thursday, he’ll make his official return to the competitive circuit.
He’s one of about 275 archers in town for one of the biggest events on the annual calendar. Dorey Park in Henrico is hosting USA Archery’s Target Nationals and U.S. Open through Saturday.
It’s a gathering of some of the best bow-and-arrow wielders in the world for one of their first tournaments back since the schedule earlier this year was decimated.
“This is a really unique event for us,” said J.C. Poma, Richmond Region Tourism’s director of sports relations. “So any time the Richmond region can bring in a national governing body, it really helps showcase us as a destination for athletes of all abilities, of all types of sports.”
Richmond Region Tourism and Henrico County teamed to win the bid for this week’s event in a process that began in December 2017. They won the right to host it on a two-year deal, so it’ll be back in 2021.
Dorey Park will also host the National Collegiate Target Championships and World University Games — U.S. Team Trials next year.
On Wednesday, a practice day for the Target Nationals and U.S. Open, archers reconnected with each other between rounds launching arrows at roughly 270 feet per second — or 184 miles per hour — at yellow-, red- and blue-colored targets 50, 60 and 70 meters away.
In light of the pandemic, there are fewer competitors at this year’s championship than usual — a little over half. There are fewer targets, about 90.
During competition, to help enable social distancing, two archers will be assigned to each target as opposed to the usual four.
Spectators will be allowed in certain areas.
The event is an open tournament, with no qualification build-up. Ages of archers range from teens to older than 70. Divisions are separated by bow type (recurve, compound, barebow), age group and gender.
There are multiple Olympians and Paralympians in the field.
“Our depth is not the same as it would be in a normal year. But we still have a lot of top representation,” said Sheri Rhodes, USA Archery’s national events manager.
The talent was clear as archers endured the humid conditions Wednesday to prepare for what’s ahead. The conditions could play a factor in whether world-record scores are put up this week.
Boston’s Braden Gellenthien, after fetching a practice batch of arrows shot almost perfectly in the middle of a target, explained that humid conditions can cause arrows to track downrange more than usual because of the mass of the air.
“To get on that pace to shoot a score that’s going to threaten a world record, you need really calm conditions,” said Gellenthien, who is No. 1 in the outdoor compound bow world rankings. “Not a lot of wind. Overcast skies are a lot easier on the eye and it allows you to relax and be a little bit more consistent shooting position.”
Gellenthien, 34, got into archery in Cub Scouts. Down the target line Wednesday was an archer who’s newer to the sport, but still accomplished: Andre Shelby.
Shelby, from Jacksonville, Fla., won a gold medal in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. He was the first African-American to compete in Paralympic Archery. He bought his first bow in 2009.
He recently shifted to a new bow setup, and this week’s tournament is a chance to give it a real test.
“I just wanted to test it out, see where I’m sitting at. If I need to go back and make a few changes,” said Shelby, 53.
In the women’s practice group Wednesday was one of the youngest competitors, but one with a likely Olympic future. Casey Kaufhold, 16, has competed on a regular basis since she was 12.
She’s the current leader in trials for the Olympics that are scheduled to pick back up in the spring.
Kaufhold used the break in competitions to continue to improve. She said she feels good heading into this week.
“And I’m definitely really excited to see all the competitors again,” Kaufhold said. “Because it’s been since March since I’ve seen most of these people. So I’m definitely excited to reconnect those friendships and just have fun competing.”
The Target Nationals and U.S. Open represents one of 30 sporting events Richmond Region Tourism will have hosted through Labor Day and since early June, when Phase Two guidelines went into effect. Those events represent $16 million in economic impact. That helps offset the 43 sporting events Richmond Region Tourism has had to cancel for a loss of $27.9 million in spending.
It’s also the first national championship event hosted by a national governing body hosted in Henrico County.
“We’re just excited, going into an Olympic year next year, to be able to set the stage for these Olympians to start in Richmond and lead into the Olympics next summer,” Poma said.