This weekend, Archer David Barnes was announced as part of Australia’s Tokyo 2020 team, but his selection comes 16 years after he made his Olympic debut, equalling the second-longest Australian Olympic break.
It was Athens 2004 where the fresh-faced 18-year-old competed at his first Olympic Games alongside Olympic Champion Simon Fairweather and bronze medallist Tim Cuddihy.
Barnes placed 36th individually and sixth in the team event which he considered a disappointing result after going in ranked third in the world individually and first in the world for team.
Three years later the then 21-year-old put away his bow, wanting to experience a ‘normal life.’ Barnes got married, had two children, began a successful business and didn’t shoot an arrow for a decade.
At a business function in 2017, Barnes realised his love of the sport still remained and he picked up his bow for the first time since 2007, but it wasn’t just a return to the sport that Barnes wanted, he had his sights on the pinnacle, targeting Tokyo 2020.
“I was part of an entrepreneur’s organisation which was a business peer-to-peer learning group that involved goal setting,” Barnes explained.
“I made a passing comment about when the next Olympics would be and worked backwards to figure out how old I would be, and it turned out I would be 34 for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“I always knew inside that I would go back to Archery at some stage, but it wasn’t something I was consciously thinking about until that moment,” he continued.
“I had this realisation that being 34 is not a competitive disadvantage. I looked back at Simon [Fairweather] who was 32 at Athens 2004 and was still a hyper-competitive Archer.
“I thought to myself, now is the time to get back into it and Tokyo 2020 was the goal.”
Fairweather would play a significant role in Barnes’ return to the sport but this time, as his coach.
“After I finished the sport, Simon went on to become the National Coach,” the South Australian said.
“When I got back into Archery, I didn’t have any connections but found out that Simon was living in Adelaide, so we caught up and decided to start working together.
“It just felt like all the stars were aligning. Simon has got a lot of valuable knowledge both from being an elite athlete, a previous teammate of mine and also being the National Coach.”
Barnes made his return to the Australian National Team the following year and counts his new coach as one of his greatest inspirations.
“Seeing him win the Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medal was a huge moment for me but more so for Australia and for the sport of Archery.
“Simon went to five Games overall and won multiple World Championships throughout his career, so I’ve always had a lot of respect for what he's done for the sport.
“Even as a teammate 16 years ago, I learnt a lot from him.”
Although, Barnes says times have changed, with a bit of role reversal between himself and his coach.
“It's interesting. I look back on Athens where I would have been 18, Simon was 32 and my other teammate Tim would have been 17.
“I think to myself, ‘Man, he must have been so patient with some of our daily teenage antics,’ Barnes laughed.
“He was a lot more serious and focused back then and now I feel like that’s almost a little bit reversed.
“Simon is a lot more relaxed now and likes to have a bit of fun, whereas I’m that older bloke who is a lot more serious and just hyper-focused on what needs to be done, so it’s been an interesting contrast between then and now.
“We work very well together, and I feel that we've definitely met in the middle and found some common ground that has got us to where we are today.”
Barnes said that the actual mastery of the sport was one of the easier aspects of making his return. The more difficult areas have been around lack of time when working and raising a young family.
“I was pretty happy with how quickly things came back. I hadn’t shot an arrow in ten years, but I feel like that first 60% came back relatively quickly and I was competitive at a state level within a couple of months,” he explained.
“Then it took about a year to improve another 20% and I’m still continuing to improve going into Tokyo, but the biggest adjustment has been time. The availability, allocation and prioritization of time.
“Elite athletes are very selfish in the fact that sport just consumes so much time and it's that time away from your family and away from your kids, which puts an extra load on my wife.
“I feel that pursuing sport to an elite level, is a very selfish endeavour, but I'm also very lucky that my wife is so supportive and understanding of it as well, and so are my kids.
“I spoke to my little girl yesterday, who asked what I was doing and when I told her I was training she said, ‘Shoot tens Daddy, shoot lots of Xs!’
“That's been the biggest adjustment along with having to scale back my work commitments to try and pursue another Olympics.”
Barnes likes to keep his kids as involved as possible, even letting them name his bows.
“I have two bows that my kids have named, ‘Raptor’ and ‘Dishwasher’,” Barnes laughed.
“Raptor is the orange one, and she’s been really good to me, so people will most likely see her at Tokyo.”
Barnes said that after being away from the sport for over a decade, the standard has improved dramatically.
“The standard of Archery across the world has increased a lot.
“Back when I was shooting, the world record from memory was 680-690 out of 720 and now it's 791 so the standard across the world just keeps on pushing, which means that I can’t get complacent.
“I need to keep raising the bar and looking at what's happening around the world to keep pushing that ceiling.”
As for his aspirations for Tokyo 2020, Barnes says he is using his disappointment from Athens 2004 as motivation, and relishing going into the Games as the underdog.
“Going into Athens ranked so highly and coming home empty-handed definitely hurt, but I can take that with me as fuel for 2020,” he shared.
“This time around I'm going to slide under the radar because I'm ranked 128th individually and (currently) seventh in teams. It's a good spot where you don’t have to worry about having a target on your back.
“I'm definitely using that as motivation to knuckle down, there aren’t many days left, so for me, it's about making the most of every day and knowing that whatever happens, I’ll walk away with no regrets.”