Kateri Vrakking couldn’t believe her ears. It was just before 11 at night when the phone rang, a few short days after she had placed third at Archery Canada’s Pan Am Games qualifiers in Montreal. She was pumped, and expected to represent her country at the upcoming tournament.
Yet the voice on the other end of the line, a coach from the national archery organization, told her she wouldn’t be on the Pan Am team. They were giving the third spot to a 19-year-old who placed fifth, preferring to go with a “younger archer,” Vrakking said.
Vrakking is 42.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you serious?’ I was just flabbergasted, thinking this is crazy. Come on!”
She hung up the phone, but not before warning: “You’re going to hear from my lawyer.”
Less than two weeks later, with Vrakking levelling accusations of “ageism,” Archery Canada reversed its decision. The highly decorated archer, an elementary school teacher in Weston and five-time national champion, will be allowed to shoot arrows at the Pan Ams after all. And that means Shannon Davidson, the young Mississauga archer chosen to fill the third spot, will be bumped from the roster, Vrakking said.
“I don’t think athletes should have to go through this. If you can put down the arrows and qualify, and prove on a field of play that you’re the best representative, then why does it have to go back to a boardroom?” Vrakking asked. “It kind of takes the sport out of sport.”
Representatives from Archery Canada refused interview requests Thursday. In an email, executive director Scott Ogilvie called Vrakking’s allegation of ageism “false and unfounded.” Ogilvie said she was originally denied a place on the team because of the organization’s “performance objectives” and “selection criteria,” and that “a mutually agreeable settlement” was reached.
Efforts to speak with Davidson and her mother, listed as her manager on archery websites, were unsuccessful Thursday, and neither responded to voicemails and emails.
Speaking with the Toronto Star from her lawyer’s office, Vrakking emphasized that she has nothing against Davidson, who won gold at the Canada Winter Games this year, or any other younger competitors. But she argued that the Pan Am Games is not a “developmental competition” meant to help younger athletes gain experience.
Over three days at the Montreal qualifiers, for example, Vrakking said she placed third with 194.1859 points. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers closed the weekend with 81.0721 and 80.1849, respectively.
“I understand we need to help younger archers,” Vrakking said. “But if they’re not even close to our ranking ability, then why is Archery Canada deciding to put someone on the world stage who might not even do well?”
According to the Archery Canada website, the top two in the Montreal qualifiers get automatic Pan Am spots. The third and final slot would be chosen by a three-member committee and go to an athlete with a “reasonable probability” of finishing in the top five at the Pan Ams. The committee would also consider past performance, team dynamics and future potential.
Vrakking’s lawyer, Mark McMackin, said he thinks the popularity of The Hunger Games movies might have something to do with Archery Canada’s original decision. Yet Vrakking said she’s still in the prime of her career, having picked up a bow for the first time when she was 27.
“I have a trajectory of an archer who starts much younger,” she said, adding she hopes to make the Olympic team also. “Archery isn’t a sport where we have an expiry date on the athletes. . . . It’s not a sport where you turn a certain age and that’s it, we’ve got to put you on a shelf.
“Being 42, having a little bit of grey behind my ears, it brings in the piece of ageism,” she said. “I’m just getting my head back to where it was before all this started.”
The Pan Am Games archery competition will take place at Varsity Stadium on Aug. 8 and 9.