YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — Emre Erkus sees mountains, high-rise buildings and swarms of people in his native Ankara, Turkey. So when he landed in eastern South Dakota for the world’s top tournament for young archers, he was taken aback by the remote flatness — until he saw a yellow school bus, like ones he’s seen in American movies.
“Those were my dream,” the 16-year-old said, explaining how he and about 450 other top-class archers are getting around Yankton. “I can die now.”
Yankton, a city of about 14,000 people, beat out Mexico City and other international locations to host the 2015 World Archery Youth Championships, a biennial event for countries’ top archers between the ages of 15 and 20. The competition — which has seen world records set and broken — was last held in the U.S. in 2009, in Utah, while Poland and China hosted the last two events.
Knowing that the competition would draw people from around the world, Yankton officials have been preparing since the Switzerland-based World Archery Federation chose the Missouri River city last year.
City leaders and local businesses went through diversity training to ensure athletes and coaches from different cultures would feel welcome, and more than 500 volunteers are helping with 1,500 shifts. Tornado-siren testing has been cancelled to avoid scaring anyone during the competition, which runs through Sunday.
“It’s just incredible to have it here, and from the community standpoint, I think without a doubt, the cultural diversity that they get to experience is really incredible,” said Bruce Cull, a Yankton resident and president of the National Field Archery Association.
To the delight of Erkus, the school district pitched in its buses to take teams to and from facilities. But some athletes preferred a more familiar mode of transportation. Mariya Shkolna of Lviv, Ukraine, said she got some inquisitive looks from motorists while she and her teammates spent about four hours walking to a supermarket and shopping center.
“It’s our first time in (the) USA. One question, why everyone have a car here and don’t walk,” the 17-year-old said.
Some athletes used Google to learn about South Dakota, saying their searches yielded information about cowboys, bison and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
The archers got to see bison, when two of the large animals were brought to the archery facility for the opening ceremony. They also saw Native American dances, including one in which athletes were invited to take part. “It was very fun because it is an American tradition, which we haven’t seen before,” Shkolna said.
Organizers are planning to showcase other aspects of the region’s culture through a county fair-style party, a tour of an elk and buffalo ranch in nearby Nebraska, and allowing athletes to swap items typical of their home country with Yankton students.
But the “Shrine of Democracy” will have to wait: The fastest route to Mount Rushmore, some athletes were bummed to learn, is a more than five-hour drive away.
“I was told about a mountain that has the faces of the presidents,” said 19-year-old Luis Esteban Infante-Galvan, of Monclova, Mexico, who earned bronze in his category two years ago. “I would like to go. Maybe on a bus.”
World Archery Youth Championships: http://bit.ly/1MmdfkN