With archery on the minds of many fans of the “The Hunger Games” movie, featuring archer extraordinaire Katniss Everdeen, we thought it was a good time to offer a primer on the Olympic version of the sport. The actress who plays the role of Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence, was trained by four-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig, who is trying to secure a trip to the Games in London this summer.
With the ’12 Games around the corner, here are 12 things you might know about archery so you are ready once the Games begin in London.
THE RECURVE: There are two disciplines of competitive archery on the international stage: recurve and compound. Recurve is the only one used in the Olympic Games. A series of wheels and pulleys are utilized by bows in compound archery, which help to decrease the amount of pulling pressure, or bow weight, on the archer. Not so in recurve. “Compound, if you pull back 50 pounds, you might only be holding 15 pounds,” says three-time Olympian Vic Wunderle. “Recurve, it keeps getting harder and harder the further you pull it back. So if you pull back 50 pounds (of pressure), you‘re going to be holding 50 pounds. In that sense, compound is a little bit more user friendly and the recurve, though, is a little bit more traditional.” At the Olympic level, the men are usually pulling back 40 to 50 pounds of bow weight with each shot, and women are averaging 38 pounds and above.
BEST IN THE WORLD: Brady Ellison, who made his first Olympic team in 2008 just three years after switching from a compound bow to recurve, will enter the London 2012 Olympic Games as the world’s No. 1-ranked men’s recurve archer. He still has the nomination process to get through, but Ellison was No. 1 after USA Archery’s first of three Olympic Nomination shoots. He won gold at the Pan American Games this past October, defeating, among others, Juan Rene Serrano of Mexico, the top-ranked archer at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He also won gold at the London test event in October, defeating world record-holder Im Dong Hyun of Korea.
THE MEDALS: There will be four medal events at the London 2012 Olympic Games: men’s recurve, women’s recurve, men’s team, women’s team. The Olympic field will be evenly divided between 64 men and 64 women. The competition will take place from July 27 through Aug. 3.
CRICKET GROUND: The archery competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games will be held at the Lord’s Cricket Ground, a historic venue on the northwest side of London that has hosted cricket games since 1814. It is home to the Middlesex County Cricket Club. The venue will accommodate more than 6,000 spectators for the archery competition, with bleachers on both sides of the competition area. Ellison already has a good feel for the venue. He won individual and team gold medals at the test event for archery held in October at the Cricket Ground.
KNOCKOUT, KNOCKOUT: The format in London will utilize a knockout process in which archers face each other in head-to-head elimination round match play. Each archer shoots three arrows in each set. Archers score each set, and receive two points for a win, one for a tie, and zero for a loss. The first archer to reach six set points wins, and the set system, introduced in 2010, produces plenty of surprises. The losing archer is knocked out of the competition. The field keeps dividing itself in half until only the medal rounds remain.
THE DISTANCE: At the Olympic Games, all distances are 70 meters. How perfect do these archers need to be? Consider this: To record a perfect one-arrow score of 10, the archer must hit inside the center ring of the target, which is just 12.2 centimeters in diameter. That’s like standing on the 30-yard line of a football field and hitting a five-inch saucer in the opposite end zone.
CONDITIONING: Because recurve archery is so physically demanding on an archer’s core and back muscles, strength training is a virtual must. “Archery is a lot more physical than people understand,” Wunderle said. “If you’re pulling back a couple hundred times a day during competitions and expect to hold it as steady on the last arrow of the day as you did on the first arrow of the day.” That’s where the conditioning comes in. “It’s a full-time thing for me,” he said. “You’re spending as much time with that as you would a normal job.”
THE EQUIPMENT: An archer’s equipment is vital for the task. Even for an amateur archer, the cost is easily hundreds of dollars. It begins with the bow and bowstring. Most bowstrings are made of high-tech polyethylene fibers. Then, there are the arrows, which have diameters as small as 5.5 millimeters so that they fly through the air faster toward a target 70 meters away and can stand up to a stiff wind. An armguard protects a shooter’s arm from being hit by the bowstring. A chest protector guards the chest. Many archers use a shooting glove or finger tab to protect fingers. Adjustable weight stabilizers are used to stabilize the bow during and after a shot is released. Sights are used to help archers aim at the target, which can be moved vertically or horizontally depending on weather conditions. Scopes, or specialized magnification devices, are used to get a close-up view of the target after an arrow is shot and also helps, Wunderle said, to distinguish between your own arrows and a competitor’s arrows. However, scopes may not be attached to the bow and sights may not offer magnification.
TWO TO GO: While Ellison is widely considered the strongest contender for one of the three men’s spots in archery on the U.S. Olympic Team, the rest of the squad’s members will surface from a series of three Olympic Nomination Shoots. The remaining two shoots will be held April 23 through 28 at the Easton Aluminum Archery Range in Chula Vista, Calif., and June 1 through 3 at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, Colo. Ellison leads the men’s rankings after the first nomination shoot held in October, and two-time Olympian Jennifer Nichols leads the women. The second nomination shoot will cut the field to eight men and eight women; the third shoot will determine the ranking to be used for Olympic nominations. The U.S. has three men’s slots qualified for London and one women’s slot. However, the U.S. will attempt to win two more women’s Olympic slots at the third stage of the World Cup in June in Ogden, Utah.
TEAM USA MEDAL CONTENDERS: In addition to Ellison, Team USA will likely have a mix of Olympic veterans and promising new shooters. Wunderle, a silver medalist at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, combined with Ellison and Jake Kaminski to win team gold at the 2012 World Archery Indoor Championships. Kaminski, a silver medalist at the 2012 world indoors, is runner-up to Ellison after the first Olympic Nomination shoot and Butch Johnson, a five-time Olympian, is third. Women medal contenders include Jennifer Nichols, a two-time Olympian; Khatuna Lorig, a four-time Olympian, and Miranda Leek, a promising teen who earned a silver medal at the Pan American Games.
HOPING FOR STILL WINDS: Archers face all kinds of weather conditions, and must compete in them. The only stoppages, Wunderele says, are for a dangerous lightning storm or hail. Wind storm? Then it’s play on. “The wind is often a big factor in the outdoor competitions,” Wunderle said. “It can be dead calm in the middle (of the shooting area). You can have a real stiff side wind where you might be aiming two or three feet to the side of (the target) where you want to hit to make the arrow hit in the middle.” Rain? Oh, yes. “Sometimes you get caught in a downpour of rain and still have to compete in the middle of it,” he said.
PARALYMPIC ARCHERY: Jeff Fabry, a silver medalist at the 2011 World Archery Para Championships, has qualified for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Six other U.S. spots will be determined at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in late April in Chula Vista, Calif. The Paralympic Games archery will be held at the Royal Artillery Barracks and is scheduled for Aug. 29 through Sept. 5.
SOURCES: USA Archery, International Olympic Committee, london2012.com