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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Obscure U.S. Archer Surprises

September 21, 2000|MICHAEL HIRSLEY | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

SYDNEY, Australia — Victor Wunderle's Olympic quest, in terms understandable to those who don't understand archery but do understand pressure, boiled down to this Wednesday: Shoot arrows into a bull's-eye the size of a grapefruit, at the center of a target standing 77 yards away.

Oh yes, add the presence of bleachers filled with spectators, an unusual setting for the relatively obscure sport.

And, since the playing field was in Australia, factor in that most of those excited fans were rooting for Wunderle's opponent, Aussie archer Simon Fairweather. Twelve shots, winner takes gold.

That's a lot of pressure for a slender 24-year-old from tiny Mason City, Ill. But Olympic gold doesn't come easily.

Wunderle shot well, putting all 12 arrows within the yellow center or the red circle encompassing scores from eight to 10. Fairweather shot spectacularly, getting five bull's-eye 10s in his dozen shots to beat Wunderle, 113-106.

Settling for silver was not hard for Wunderle. He took great satisfaction from beating two of the best in his sport, Korean Oh Kyo Moon and Swede Magnus Petersson, just to get a chance against Fairweather in the final.

"I'm very excited just to take part in these Games," said Wunderle, who got a few words of encouragement from fellow collegian Chelsea Clinton.

"Just small talk," said Wunderle, studying wildlife and fisheries science at Texas A&M. "If I would have gone out and shot bad and choked, I'd feel bad. But I'm happy. We both shot well. Simon just had a great day."

Before coming to Sydney, Wunderle said he had "joked with my friends that I'd go for the silver medal because everybody else was going for the gold." In truth, however, a host of elite archers were knocked out of the competition for any medal--including all three of the favored Koreans. Wietse Van Alten of the Netherlands won the bronze.

With most of the crowd rooting for Fairweather, the minority cheering section included Wunderle's parents, Terry and Jeanne, and his sisters, Sally, 22, and Dawn, 26. Terry Wunderle is an archer and archery instructor, and all of his children have won national competitions.

"The Olympics is the ultimate pedestal," Terry said, admitting that watching his son compete was excruciating. "I've never had any trouble before, but I sure did this time."

Asked again about coming so close to a gold medal, Victor Wunderle said without hesitation, "I can't say anything bad about a silver medal. It's more than I came here with."

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