By Nicole Cohen
Rob Rusnov always aimed at going to the Olympics.
While in Grade 9, the Richmond Hill resident heard an announcement about archery team tryouts. He went to the library and looked up archery in an encyclopaedia. When he saw it was an Olympic sport, he was sold.
“Without even shooting a bow I announced to my parents that I was going to the Olympics for archery,” the 26-year-old said. “And that was that.”
Less than 10 years later, his dream became a reality when he qualified for the 1996 Games in Atlanta. After a 38th-place finish there, Rusnov, a third-year electrical engineering student at Ryerson, is targeting gold at Sydney.
Rusnov earned the lone spot on the Canadian Olympic team for an archer after beating his best friend David Dalziel of Prince Albert, Sask., in a three-day shoot-out in early July.
The win made his coaches ecstatic, but for Rusnov, a veteran of the sport, it was no big deal.
“When I won in 1996, I was euphoric. I was on cloud nine,” he said a few weeks before leaving for Sydney in August. “This time I’m just going to Sydney to get my gold medal and hear my national anthem. That would be the ultimate.”
Rusnov was more excited about competing in the Atlanta Games, but said living out his Olympic dream for a second time is still thrilling.
“It’s an awesome thing, walking into a stadium during the opening ceremonies,” he said. “It’s spine-tingling beyond belief.”
For Rusnov though, that warm fuzzy feeling will disappear by the time he starts five-day competition Saturday, Sept. 16.
“At first you get a huge adrenaline rush,” he said. “Your heart is beating super fast, your knees are buckling. But that’s what I love about the sport—walking onto the shooting line and wanting to throw up.”
Rusnov has a good reason to be nervous about the Olympics. If he wins a gold medal, his life could change dramatically.
Although he plans to retire from archery after the Games, a win could earn him so many endorsement contracts and commercial deals he’d have to suspend his studies.
And that would be a major change for Rusnov, a student who takes engineering so seriously he doesn’t pick up a bow or arrow during the school year.
“I bury myself in books during the year and archery becomes second to school,” he said.
This leaves him with only four months a year to practice, but Rusnov is use to it. He says his ranking never slipped while he was earning two degrees at York University during the mid 1990s.
Since age 16, Rusnov has been either No. 1 or No. 2 in Canada in his sport.
Still, he has had some heart-breaking losses.
There have been some difficult times for Rusnov and he has had to reevaluate what he loves about archery and why he competes.
At a qualifying shoot-out for the 1996 Games, Rusnov lost to his training partner Kevin Sally, a Ryerson engineering student at the time, and Rusnov’s ranking slipped to No. 2 for the first time since he was 16.
Because the Canadian Olympic team had only one spot for an archer, he thought he had lost his chance at the Olympics. Two weeks later, however, archery’s international governing body granted him a wild-card sport at the Games.
The scare, Rusnov said, changed his attitude for the better.
“That was a great growth experience for me, in terms of who I was and what archery meant to me,” he said. “I thought that being an Olympian would make me somebody. Then my whole world came crashing down and I figured out that I did archery because it’s fun and I love it.”