Many people have aspirations of becoming an Olympian. And with 339 events at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 (2021), you do not have to be the fastest runner in the world to achieve this goal. As a result, when perusing the list of Olympic events, you may see archery and think that hitting a target is the easiest path to Olympic glory. But just how hard is Olympic Archery?
Olympic archery is extremely difficult. While it does not require the same strength, power, or cardiovascular endurance as some of the more mainstream Olympic sports, it requires a unique blend of focus, precision, concentration, and endurance that few sports can match.
Although Olympic archery is no walk in the park, it is possible to become among the world’s best with the right mindset. The key is being prepared for all of the unique challenges that the sport entails, with the following breakdown looking at seven things you must know as you plan your journey in Olympic archery.
The Target Is a Long Way Away
Many people with an interest in Olympic archery likely see it stem from their experiences with bow hunting. If you had success as a bowhunter or in target practice with your recurve bow, then it stands to reason that you are well on your way to becoming an Olympic archer, right?
Well, not exactly. Most recreational hunters and archers need to be within 50 yards to hit their target. The Olympic archery target is 70 meters (76.5 yards) away. What’s more: while hunters aim to hit a target 6 inches in diameter, the 10-point bullseye ring on an Olympic target is a mere 12.2 centimeters (4.8 inches) in diameter.
There Is Little Room for Error
An Olympic archer gets 72 arrows, in 12 rounds of 6 arrows. To qualify for the Olympics, women must shoot a total score of 605, and men must shoot 640.
If the archer were to hit 72 straight 10-point bullseyes, their total score would be 720. If they were to miss that by just a few centimeters and hit 72 straight 9-point shots, the total score would be 648.
If they were to go outside of the gold ring (the inner circle of the target consisting of the 9 and 10) and hit 72 straight 8-point shots, the total score would be 576–well short of qualifying.
The issue is that being off by just a fraction of a centimeter at release, an error not even visible to the naked eye, can cause the arrow to skew significantly by the time it hits the target 70 meters away, resulting in a shot that hits in the outer ring and worth only a point or two. Such a shot can be extremely difficult to overcome, leaving very little margin for error in the sport of archery.
The Bows Weigh a Lot
The men’s recurve bow weighs 48.5 pounds, and the women’s weighs 33 pounds. Lifting that 72 times throughout a competition is no small task—let alone lifting it and holding it steady while taking a shot.
Archery Competitions Last a Long Time
The average archery competition takes two hours, as the 64 qualifiers take turns shooting their 12 sets (known as “ends” in archery jargon) of arrows.
While the athlete will not be actively shooting this entire time, they will usually walk over 5 miles retrieving arrows and moving between ends, requiring unique stamina similar to that of elite golfers.
The Training Is No Joke
While an Olympic archer will not be running sprints until they throw up or doing push-ups until their arms turn to Jell-O, as is required in some of the more high-intensity Olympic sports, the training for Olympic archery presents its own challenges.
- First, the archer must be accustomed to walking the long distances required during competition. Therefore, many archers walk a couple of hours a day, several days a week, to get acclimated.
- In addition, the precision required of elite archers does not happen by osmosis. It takes hours and hours of repetitive practice, with many archers shooting 150 or more arrows a day, several days a week.
- Finally, being an archer activates a very unique set of muscles. While the practice of drawing the heavy bow is the best way to train these muscles, the Olympic archer will go to the gym to develop their abdomen and obliques for helping stabilize the drawn bow, as well as their latissimus dorsi and posterior deltoids to make drawing the bow easier.
All in all, some of the most serious Olympic archers will train up to six hours a day, six days a week!
To keep training when your club is closed you can set up an indoor archery range at home if you have got the space for it. If you don’t have the space indoors you could go for one outside and practice archery in your backyard or maybe even practice in the public park – but be careful – there are rules and laws to follow.
Injuries Can Be Catastrophic
While an injury in any sport is never good news, there is no “playing through” an injury in Olympic archery. Any type of condition that causes a flinch, grimace, or even makes the archer think too much will cause an arrow to fly off target and wreck a competition.
And while it may not seem like it, archers are actually quite susceptible to injury. In addition to common overuse conditions, such as muscle strains and blisters, archery lends itself to creating imbalances in the body, as the specific muscles used for archery will become overdeveloped compared to their counterparts.
As many injuries result from musculoskeletal imbalances, it is critical that archers work out complementary body parts—even if they are not directly related to archery success—to avoid these types of debilitating injuries.
It Is Not for the Mentally Weak
Yogi Berra comically quipped that “baseball is 90% mental—the other half is physical.” This saying has been widely applied to all sports to emphasize the importance of focus and mindset for athletic success.
However, in no sport is mental fortitude more critical than in archery. Competitors must find a unique space of concentration and Zen round after round, hour after hour. Therefore, those prone to getting inside their own head will likely struggle to succeed in Olympic archery.
Many people may consider the recreational appearance of Olympic archery and think that it is an easy sport to master. However, it is actually one of the most difficult sports around.
The seven reasons listed above illustrate the unique challenges associated with becoming an Olympic archer. By understanding them and taking intentional measures to master each, you can put yourself in a position to compete with some of the best archers in the world!