The Face-to-Face Toumament is still relatively new in international terms, but it has taken a number of years to develop the current format. The atmosphere and excitement experienced by archers and spectators at last year's tournament was a world away from the humble beginnings of this unique competition.
In 1989, there was growing concern that archery might lose its Olympic status because it did not appeal to spectators or television, so a group of enthusiatic archers in the Netherlands, led by Harrie Jacobs, set about trying to find ways to present the sport in a more exciting way.
They realised, if archery was to appear more exciting, the head-to-head system offered the most possibillities, but, unlike the options used at international level, it should be easy to organise, the matches should be quick and the results known as soon as possible
So at the Red Soxx clubhouse in Ven-Zelderheide, teams from Germany, Belgium and England joined local archers in a competition very similar to what is now the qualification round of 'TOP Face-to-Face'. The tournament, which was called 'Happy Ends' (It took place at the end of the year), was very succesful and the archers enjoyed the element of tension, but it was obvious there was still room for improvement.
Experiments over the next couple of years revealed the way to capture the interest of spectators. By only presenting one match at a time, the audience would stay for longer and become involved in the drama of each competition. Reducing the time limit to 90 seconds increased the tension on both sides of the shooting and by using video, the spectator could see the pressure on the face of each archer. However, some aspects of this format still caused frustration to the organisers. Top archers, who had travelled considerable distances could be out of competition after shooting for only 20 minutes.
1992 was a revelation, by combining the group system and the final stages into a single two-day competition the archers were faced with a challenging tournament and the spectators were offered a succession of of entertaining matches. Even the archers who were eliminated after the first round had at least shot the equivalent of a regular competition. In 1993, at the first TOP Face-to-Face Competition, 3 important steps were taken. First of all, 8 different countries accepted the invitation to compete, so the competition was of a higher standard than ever before. Then a major Sponsor, PHILIPS, the electronics company, became involved for the first time and provided monitors which increased the impact of the video. Also by moving to the sports hall 'De Genderbeemd' in Eindhoven, many more spectators could be accommodated and they were much closer to the action, which intensified the atmosphere. If all this wasn't enough the Ukrainians provided an electrifying performance which had everyone on the edge of their seats.
In 1994, the reputation of the tournament attracted even more countries, notably Sweden and Russia. Also, in keeping with the spirit of innovation which has guided the tournament from the beginning, the finals changed from sets of 9 arrows to sets of 3. This made everything quicker, more intense and exciting. Goran Bjorendal said after his victory: 'that was the most exciting final I've ever taken part in'.
1995 was another year of experimentation, and there were many small improvements in the style of presentation, but the most interesting was still the perfomance of the archers. It was difficult to imagine this year being more exciting, particularly because Natalia Valeeva and Magnus Petterson had been winning so many other tournaments. But Matteo Bisiani from Italy rose to the challenge and in the final against Pettersson provided the audience with one of the most dramatic confrontations ever seen in archery.
TOP Face-to-Face is not a single idea, it is a success because it is a combination of ideas and many people have contributed to the development of the tournament. The organisers are continually looking for new ways to add to the atmosphere and increase the excitement. If there is only one indication of the success of TOP Face-to-Face it is the fact that so many of the world's top archers return each December, even though there is no money or world ranking points to be fought for. And every year more and more of the best are joining them. They all want to experience the thrill of 'the tension tournament'