SouthAfrica.info (Johannesburg)

South Africa: Archer, Laser Scientist En Route to London

South Africa's team for the 2012 Olympic Games includes an unusual combination in archer Karen Hultzer and her coach, Johan Steyn, who is using his expertise in laser technology to prepare Hultzer for tackling the best exponents in her sport.

Cape Town's Karen Hultzer, a relative newcomer to archery, is the only archer to be included in South Africa's team for London.

A landscaper by profession, Hulzer never thought that her interest in shooting arrows would land her a spot in Team South Africa.

Relative newcomer to the sport

Her entry into archery was entirely by chance, and although she's been competing for only four years, she doesn't want to do anything else. "I clearly remember driving past the shooting range on my way to clients, and one day I decided I will give it a go," she recalls.

Now the self-admitted adrenalin junkie, who has tried just about every extreme sport there is, thinks that her personality and the requirements of archery are a good match. "A complete calmness comes over me when I am shooting. You feel like you are in a bubble."

Since she's secured her place in the team going to London, her day job has taken a back seat. Hultzer is putting in extra time to perfect her skill before taking on 64 of the world's best archers in London, and some of these athletes shoot arrows for a living.

Keeping things in perspective

Although she is looking forward to the Games - this is her first time at the Olympics - she doesn't want to become too competitive.

"I always want to remember the joy of shooting, and not get too wrapped up in scores and results. One has to enjoy the sport," she says. "Just going to the Olympics is a major achievement."

Her coach and manager, Johan Steyn, a seasoned archer who has been involved with the sport since the age of nine, says that waiting for confirmation from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympics Committee was nerve-wracking.

"We knew that there was a 90% chance that we would qualify for the Olympics," Steyn says. "It never crossed my mind that one day I will represent my country at the Olympics. I was in shock the whole day."

Hultzer says that she is training as much as she can before flying out to London, but she also has to be careful not to train too much. "I am trying to shoot as many arrows as I can to keep up my condition," she says.

She explains that training for archery is somewhat different to other sports. "With this type of sport, although you are not running, you want to make sure that you keep your pulse steady," she says. "Once the adrenalin starts pumping you can't be calm and your bow starts moving."

Laser technology to perfect body posture

This is where Steyn's expertise in laser technology comes in handy.

The coach, who is a senior laser technologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is building a pointing device - similar to a laser pointer - to help Hultzer with her form and accuracy during training.

In archery the correct body posture is critical. "Archery is not a power sport, it has everything to do with skill and aiming," he says.

At a glance archery might look easy, but it is a very difficult sport to master.

"You need arm strength, back strength and perfect alignment," he says. "You would think that arm strength is important but it is actually back strength that is needed."

Laser applications 'in many sports'

According to Steyn there is room to use laser technology in many other sporting disciplines, if only more coaches would realise its potential to help athletes improve their game.

"My work involves coming up with creative applications for lasers - and this is one of them," he says.

The benefit of training with lasers is that archers can immediately identify weak areas.

"What I am developing is a laser that hooks onto the belt to point out if there is any hip movement," he explains.

Steyn first saw how effective lasers can be when he observed Pascal Colmaire, a renowned World Archery Federation coach and development officer, train in Morocco. "He was using the technology, so I thought I could develop a similar application," he says.

He says laser technology helps athletes to correct errors in posture or technique while they are training, instead of playing back a video of their performance.

"Athletes get feedback in the moment and they can make adjustments immediately," he explains. "Using a laser is an excellent tool to show what you are doing wrong, or right."

CSIR National Laser Centre manager Dr Ndumiso Cingo says Steyn's foresight to apply lasers to archery is a great achievement for the council. "We are even prouder that he also utilises laser technology in his coaching techniques - just another thing that lasers can do well," Cingo says.

Developing the sport in South Africa

Besides coaching, both Steyn and Hultzer are involved in developing archery in South Africa.

Steyn says that the upcoming Olympics is an ideal platform for this. "Karen's participation in the Olympics can be a big inspiration for other archers in South Africa to improve their skills and perhaps also have a go at qualifying for the next Olympics," he says.

Hultzer, who is also a part-time archery coach, says that children can benefit greatly from taking up archery, particularly those who struggle to concentrate in class or have learning disabilities.

"One of the amazing things about this sport is that it helps kids who are struggling at school," she says. "With this sport, kids can learn how to focus, it builds self-esteem and some children have even seen their school marks improve."

After the Games

Hultzer may have found her niche in archery. As much as she loves landscaping, the sport is taking up so much of her time - between coaching and training for the Olympics - that she is considering making it a fulltime career.

Currently she coaches people of all ages, from six to as old as 78, and she believes that through archery she can make a difference in people's lives.

"I find that with my students they always just want to see what the score is - but it is what you do that is more important," she says. "Archery is not about instant gratification. It is a journey."

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