Archery siblings Eleanor and Louisa Piper want to spur each other on all the way to Tokyo. Eleanor, 21, and Louisa, 17, are two of the country’s most promising young archers, honing their skills on the archery fields of Woking before breaking into the national set-up at Lilleshall.
Four years separate the Pyrford shooting duo but they joined forces to devastating effect at the Patras 2018 European Youth Championships, where they fired their way to a team silver medal in the Under-21s division in Greece.
That archery prowess is supplemented by their academic ventures, with Eleanor recently graduating with First Class Honours in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Birmingham, and Louisa now vying to follow in her footsteps with a degree in Aerospace Engineering.
But it’s arrows, not astronomy, that keep the pair motivated, and they believe their influence on each other has been pivotal in their rise.
“Eleanor and I both have similar natures and are competitive when we shoot against each other,” said Louisa, currently supported through the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) which is managed by SportsAid.
“But at the same time we push each other forwards - if one of us is doing better than the other it makes the other want to work harder! I think that’s what has made us reach these levels - we’ve both always tried to beat each other, over and over again, growing up!"
Eleanor, a beneficiary of SportsAid support over several years who is being backed by GVC in 2020, added: “We’re really supportive of each other but with that competitive element, and have always encouraged each other as we made our way up the archery ladder.
“There’s a lot of discussion about archery in our house! Both of us are quite competitive but we’re really good sisters and both want to achieve as much as we can together.”
Contrary to many tales of sporting siblings it was younger sister Louisa who inspired Eleanor’s archery journey, as she joined her local Woking Archery Club at the age of just six.
A young Louisa had a natural eye for hitting the target so continued with the sport at weekends, as mum Helen drove her there and back while dad, Mark, and brother, Laurence, played rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer.
Older brother William was a talented chorister at Guildford Cathedral and when that left Eleanor with no weekend activity, she finally opted to pick up a bow herself.
“I was never a sporty person but just started doing archery as something to get me out of the house!” Eleanor said. “And that’s worked out pretty well for me! Our parents have been amazing and super supportive, and I definitely couldn’t have done it without them.
“It’s just such an inclusive sport, and I love competing at a high level alongside my sister.”
Louisa added: “At a primary have-a-go session, I was told I was an archery natural and when I started shooting regularly, my sister was obviously left at home without a sport herself. She wasn’t very musical and didn’t like rugby, so just started to come to archery with me. I’m naturally competitive so that caught my own interest in archery, and as soon as I started doing competitions I fell in love.”
A rise to those dizzy Greece heights soon followed as Eleanor and Louisa embarked on their respective archery journeys, with Eleanor winning GB senior team silver at the Berlin 2018 Archery World Cup - Britain’s maiden women's team medal for 11 years - and Louisa being crowned European Under-21s field archery champion in Slovenia last year.
Arrows, bows and targets have been accompanied by calculators, test tubes and stationary, however, with both siblings amongst the highest achievers at their local Guildford High School.
Eleanor completed A-Levels in Chemistry, Physics and Maths, while Louisa is about to head into Year 13 as she studies Maths, Physics and Biology - and a GCSE in Astronomy. Balancing sport and education has been far from easy but both siblings know how helpful their school, university and - for Eleanor - a certain Peugeot 107 have been.
“I was able to balance both my archery and degree as I invested in a tiny little car - a Peugeot 107 - to drive to Lilleshall!” Eleanor said. “The university were amazing as they always came up with solutions for me, which was really useful. I also think my experience of archery at university has made me progress, as it’s a different, social side of the sport.”
Louisa added: “Guildford High School have been really supportive of both my academic and archery ventures. You have to make sure you have priorities, and for both Eleanor and I it is education, as without that, you can’t access the jobs needed to help fund you in the sport long-term.
“I’m definitely thinking about following in Eleanor’s footsteps and going to Birmingham - I really like the course there and, as Eleanor knows so well, the archery team is really good.”
Archery was one of the first sports allowed to return as the lockdown was eased. Eleanor has been able to access the elite archery facility at Lilleshall whilst Louisa had her first session in over four months with her coach, Richard Priestman, after he travelled down to train with her and other members of the Olympic squad in Woking.
Richard won bronze medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games and, as Senior Olympic Coach, is now helping the siblings follow in his footsteps, with both Eleanor and Louisa in contention for the reserve spot at Tokyo next summer.
Archery GB have secured their full qualification quota - three men, three women - in Japan and Eleanor and Louisa know just how much it would mean to represent their country on the world stage.
“When we were asked to draw what our ultimate goal looked like at our regional academy, Louisa and I both drew ourselves on the Olympic podium,” Eleanor said. “I won the gold medal on my drawing with Louisa winning silver - but it was the other way round on her's!”
Louisa added: “You have to remain confident that you can go - archery is so much about mental strength and you need to have that mental picture that you are going to the Olympics. It would be amazing to fly the British flag at an Olympics with my sister - after all the work, dedication and sacrifice that has gone in it would be absolutely amazing, and the stuff of dreams.”
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