Israel Madaye: My 'steel mind' helped Chad earn first Olympic qualification in archery

Chad archer Israel Madaye at the 2019 African Games in Sale, Morocco
Chad archer Israel Madaye at the 2019 African Games in Sale, Morocco

At Tokyo 2020, Madaye could become the first athlete outside track and field and judo to carry Chad’s flag at the Olympics.

As his country was at the brink of an all-out civil war, Israel Madaye was preoccupied with practising shooting a bow and arrow.

He would routinely draw the bowstring to his anchor point, aim the arrow and release it from the string.

He kept shooting, determined to bring glory to Chad, a nation that has been marked by instability and violence for most of his life.

Madaye missed his first target, London 2012. He tried hard to aim at Rio 2016, but his arrows fell short again.

After 16 years of practice, trying, and failing, he decided to change his approach – becoming deeply mindful and setting a clear goal of what he wanted to achieve.

Finally, his moment of glory came at the 2019 African Games in Morocco when he earned an Olympic quota spot at Tokyo 2020.

Speaking to the Olympic Channel from N’Djamena, Madaye said: “Olympic qualification was still the dream for me. I went to Rabat with bad quality arrows and I was just hoping that they didn’t break while I was shooting. But my mind was strong.

On that day, I had an iron mentality. Actually, it was a steel mind.

Finding his passion

Growing up, Madaye’s love for sport was inherent. He loved playing football until he discovered archery.

The then 19-year-old saw a group that included children learning how to shoot bows and arrows. He was drawn in.

“I totally forgot about all the other sports. I just focussed on archery. I wanted to shoot arrows all the time, as simple as that,” he told the Olympic Channel about the decision that has changed his life.

“And it is still the case. If I don’t shoot for two days, I feel it’s like a month – it has become a part of my daily life.”

It was hard to satisfy his growing hunger and interest in the sport. The equipment and coaching were too basic and scarce to match Madaye’s desire to grow professionally.

But that did not hold him back from dreaming of the Olympics that he enjoyed watching on television. It was a long shot as the only Chadians who had managed to reach the Olympic level then were track and field athletes and a judoka.

“I tried to qualify for London 2012 in Rabat during the African Archery Championships, but I failed. Then I realised I still had a lot to learn,” he recalled.

Carine Ngarlemdana of the Chad Olympic judo team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Carine Ngarlemdana of the Chad Olympic judo team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games
(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Archery was also still relatively unknown in the landlocked north-central African nation.

But that changed after Madaye and other local archers reigned supreme at a regional event in neighbouring Niger in 2013.

That success further fuelled his Olympic ambitions.

“I went for the 2016 African Championships in Windhoek (in Namibia); I was feeling very good. We ordered our equipment, but they didn’t arrive on time, so it meant travelling to Namibia without the necessary kit."

"I reached the quarter-final though, but I lost against Ivorian René Kouassi,” said the recurve archer of his attempted qualification for Rio 2016.

Surviving on odd jobs

The 32-year-old, who survived working odd jobs as an electrician fixing solar panels and other electric appliances, changed his plans ahead of the 2019 African Games in Morocco – where archery featured for the first time.

“Three months before the Games, I gave up working as an electrician and I decided to fully focus on archery. People were asking me why I was doing that [stopped working], but I knew what I needed to do.”

At the shooting range in Salé (near Rabat), he lost to Egypt’s Sheriff Mohamed in the semi-finals, missing out on an automatic ticket to Tokyo. His chances hung by a thread.

“I beat everyone, one by one, until the semi-final. (Then) I lost against Egyptian Youssof Tolba in the bronze-medal match. I was not weaker, but they had superior equipment.”

It would come down to a match he wasn't even competing in.

"I needed Egypt to win against Namibia in the mixed team event final for me to qualify,” he said.

Tricky qualification

Madaye earned his quota spot as he was the highest-placed archer from a non-qualified country [fourth in the individual event]. It was one of the greatest moments in Chad’s sporting history.

“Qualification was a dream for me. It does not matter [how] it happened, it’s on my side, now,” he said.

“Even before I came back to Chad, a lot of people were aware of my qualification. I received so many messages of congratulations and encouragement…The welcome in Chad was super."

They now know that there is a guy from Chad who is doing his best to compete in the Olympics.

At Rio 2016, Chad sent only two runners in athletics. In Tokyo, the semi-arid country that’s rich in gold and uranium could have more.

Many thoughts fill Madaye’s mind, from marching at the opening ceremony to shooting at the Yumenoshima Park in front of the Olympic crowd.

What if he is paired against his ‘favourite Koreans’ or his ‘idol Brady Ellison’, the Rio 2016 team silver medallist?

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He doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. Madaye has yet to achieve the minimum entry standard – shooting a qualification round of 640 in a World Archery-registered event (he shot a 601 in Salé).

That is Madaye's next goal when competition resumes following the COVID-19 pandemic disruption.

Armed with a kit donated by the World Archery , he has decided to fully focus on this.

“Pascal Colmaire, the development and formation director at World Archery, provided us with a complete archery kit and I need to thank him by succeeding," he said.

"I have 10 arrows now, I need more but I can prepare with that though."

I now have to do even more. If I can qualify, I have a dream. I want to be on the podium in the Olympics. I need to forget about the problems.

Israel Madaye (left) at a practice session during the 2019 African Games in Sale, Morocco
Israel Madaye (left) at a practice session during the 2019 African Games in Sale, Morocco

Archery is more than just a sport

He wants to give Chadians – most of whom were born into war and rebellion – something to cheer about.

“When we get to this level, it is not the athlete who is playing. It’s a country as a whole. And when we win, we wave the country’s flag,” said Nguelet Kouago, Chad's archery technical director who introduced Madaye to the sport.

During the civil war in 2008, we lost an archer who was killed. Such problems slow us down. When it’s wartime, everything is on hold. - Nguelet Kouago, Chad archery technical director

“But we must not give up gaining what we want. We need to fight so that one day, people talk about Chad archery at a higher level," he added.

That is the even bigger driving force for Israel Madaye: to take Chad archery to the next level.

When we make a call for young people to play [our] sport, everybody is rushing. Sport unites people. When we do sport, everything is settled. - Israel Madaye

By the Olympic Channel