As the first competitors to arrive in Yankton, a group of 12 archers from Ukraine had the Easton Yankton Archery Center to themselves early Monday afternoon.
Some were enjoying a game of table tennis. Others were lounging on the leather couches.
But soon, they joined the rest of their teammates at the range for a practice round. As they would say later, the archers are in Yankton for a reason: They’re here to compete in the World Archery Indoor Championships, which begin this week.
“We have a job to do here,” 25-year-old recurve male archer Heorhiy Ivanytskyy said after Monday’s practice round. “But we want to win, too.”
“We definitely want to win,” added fellow male archer Oleksii Hunbin.
Ukraine is one of 32 countries to send archers to the five-day tournament that begins Thursday — the opening ceremony is Wednesday night. Each day is open to the public.
The competitors were set to arrive in Yankton on Monday and Tuesday, but Ukraine — which had among the longest distances to travel — was the first to arrive.
“We go to a lot of competitions all over the world,” Hunbin said. “This isn’t the first time.
“We’re used to it.”
Many of the Ukrainian archers are familiar enough with international travel that it doesn’t affect them too much, Hunbin added.
Last year, for example, a group of them competed at tournaments in Chinese Taipei and Mexico City. And Ivanytskyy said he has previously traveled to tournaments in Las Vegas, Nevada and Ogden, Utah.
“So this is OK for us,” he added, with a smile.
Here was the travel for the Ukrainian team: They had a two-four flight to Amsterdam, a 9.5-hour flight to Minneapolis, a one-hour flight to Sioux Falls and then a bus ride to Yankton.
“We spent a lot of time on airplanes,” senior coach Viktor Mykhaylenko said, with a smile. “It was a long trip, but it’s wonderful that we could do it all within one day.
The archers left Ukraine at 5 a.m. and were in Sioux Falls by 4 p.m., he added.
“It was excellent the whole way,” Mykhaylenko said.
And he was already familiar with the journey to South Dakota — Mykhaylenko had previously traveled to Yankton for the World Archery Youth Championships in 2015.
But for those who had never been to South Dakota, their initial reactions were what one might expect in mid-February.
“Really cold,” Ivanytskyy said, with a smile. “It’s not like this back home.”
He proceeded to click on the weather app on his phone to show that his home town the current temperature Monday afternoon was minus-2 degrees Celsius.
“It’s really nice if you have a vehicle, right?” Ivanytskyy said. “The places are not too far away from the hotel, so you can walk around.”
There’s also another key difference between their home towns and Yankton, the archers said — as many international archers visiting Yankton have said over the years.
“It’s small, but there is a lot of space here,” Hunbin said.
Although the Ukrainian archers have had to acclimate themselves to a new location and a new climate, they’re in Yankton to capture medals in their respective recurve divisions — there are eight divisions in the World Archery Indoor Championships.
“They don’t talk about it, but they have big goals,” Mykhaylenko said. “They want to be the best.”
Teams are limited to three archers in each division and Ukraine has three archers in each of the four recurve divisions (men, women, junior men, junior women).
Among the Ukrainian contingent is a two-time Olympian: 36-year-old Viktor Ruban was a member of the Ukraine’s bronze medal team at the 2004 Games and won an individual gold medal at the 2008 Games.
Ivanytskyy won the World Archery indoor title in 2016 in Ankara, Turkey and will look to defend his gold medal this week.
“Hopefully I can do that again,” he said.
While its archers will be seeking individual medals, Ukraine will also be seeking gold medals in the team competitions. The country claimed the bronze medal in the two recurve divisions at the 2016 Indoor Championships.
“We always try to be near the top,” Mykhaylenko said.
Teams will continue to arrive in Yankton today (Tuesday) and Wednesday is scheduled for an official practice day. The qualification rounds begin Thursday.
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