by Richard Sapp
The following was published in the Commemorative Book of the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad Los Angeles 1984 pp46-49 ISBN:0-913927-02-3 Copyright 1984 International Sport Publications, Inc.
It is the quiet sport of the Olympic games. At its venue, there are hushed conversations rather than cheering crowds. Athletes, spectators, and coaches lean across the railings and peer from beneath colorful umbrella stands to watch participants who are deep in an inner well of concentration, focusing their minds and mastering their bodies. Here are the finest athletes in the world, yet they are known only within their sport. They neither seek nor expect wealth, fame, or a lasting memorial to their having competed at all. They compete only to see a name, a country, and a final score set in small type at the bottom of a long list in a volume of Olympic records. This is the fate even of gold medalists who live in relative obscurity until the next Olympic trials. The sport is archery - the quiet sport of the Olympic Games.
World class archery competition is often describe ed as if it were a meditative rather than an athletic event. The uninformed or disinterested compare it to watching grass grow or paint dry. The mechanics are deceptive for they appear to b e simple. But it is the unseen, the mind training, the alert relaxations, the effortless control of breathing, the emptying of the mind, the awareness of the heartbeat – it is a wholly self-imposed discipline that makes one mane and one woman the very best in the world. American archery Rick McKinney has described this state of mind as “not even being in this world”.
At the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad, the best in the world were Darrell Pace (USA) and Hyang-Soon Seo (KOR). Hyang-Soon Seo represented a strong archery team from one of a number of outstanding Asian national continents competing in Los Angeles. For years, KOR has developed its archery training program, and its women have emerged as the top female team in the world. Archery was one event which the Soviet Union and their boycotting allies would not have significantly influenced.
Pre-Olympic publicity highlighted the race for the men’s gold medal between Pace – a seven time USA men’s champion, two time world champion and 1976 Olympic gold medalist – and fellow American Rick McKinney – a six time USA men’s champion and two-time world champion. It was expected they would duel to the last arrow as they had in the 1983 World Championship Games, where McKinney defeated Pace by one point on the final arrows. But for the Olympics, it was not to be.
Pace, who McKinney has described as a “shooting machine” turned in an unbelievable second round after tying McKinney for the lead in the first 36 arrows. By the end of the first day, Pace led McKinney by 13 points and was never headed. Before the competition was concluded, he led by 50 points and had set a new Olympic record of 2616 points breaking his previous mark set in 1976 in Montreal.
Pace’s outstanding performance overshadowed the struggling between McKinney and Hiroshi Yamamoto of Japan for the silver medal. Into the final 36 arrow set at 30 meters, Yamamoto maintained a slim advantage. Perhaps McKinney, a resident of Glendale, Arizona, better understood the sultry heat of Southern California, because in the final set of arrows Yamamoto lost his concentration and settled for the bronze medal not far ahead of his countryman, Takayoshi Matsushita.
For Pace, the victory was bittersweet. “There’s no money to be made in archery,” he said. An electronics technician by profession, this quiet champion has trained for the past two years, while his wife, Beth Ann, has supported the family working as a hair dresser. And Pace has already announced that he expects to be the favorite in Seoul, Korea, in 1988 at the Games of the XXIVth Olympiad.
Months before Pace won his second gold, former USA Olympic Archery Coach Al Henderson predicted a KOR victory in the women’s event. The favorite at that time, was Jin-Ho Kim who eventually took the bronze. The gold went to her teammate Hyang-Soon Seo; the silver to Li Lingiuan of the People’s Republic of China.Hyang-Soon Seo
Although it received scant publicity in the USA and Europe, the women’s competition was intense. The standings seemed to shuffle during each round. After a near disastrous opening round, Li was mired in 15th place; but she soon fought her way to the top and held on. After three days, it appeared she was headed for the top – then the Koreans punched gold and Li settled for silver.
But in the Olympics and certainly in the quiet sport, it is not only the medalists who are victors. The archer competes intensely with himself. His art transcends technique and arises from the archer’s unconscious. If this is true for the able bodied athlete, it is more so for the handicapped archer. Although she finished well down the lists, Neroli Fairhall of Christchurch, New Zealand scored a great victory for all archers, all athletes. Fairhall, a paraplegic, had been confined to a wheelchair for 15 years since a motorcycle accident ended her career as an equestrian. Fairhall, using the same equipment as other archers on the line, was as much an Olympic champion as Pace or any other gold medal winner. Perhaps she knew Olympic gold was beyond her reach, but to her credit she never showed it. From the opening ceremonies when she wheeled into the Coliseum in her blue New Zealand blazer and white slacks, through the final arrow and the last fireworks of the Closing Ceremonies, she was a champion.
Under the auspices of the Federation International de Tir a ‘Arc (FITA), Olympic archery competition is a grueling 20-hour test of stamina, concentration and control- or “muscle memory”. Each day for four days, competitors shoot 72 arrows. On the first and third days, men shoot sets of 36 arrows at 90 and at 70 meters; women shoot at 70 and 60 meters. On days two and four, men and women shoot 36 arrows each at 50 and 30 meters.
It is, of course, the longer distances which separate the Olympic and world class competitors from those who are only “very good”. At 90 meters, the target looks about the size of a half dollar and the bullseye, 11.4 cm in diameter at that range is only a pinpoint which the archer’s pin sight covers.
FITA rules also govern equipment allowed on the shooting line. Archers draw recurve bows, men pulling 18-20 kilograms and women 13-15 kilograms. The modern recurve design is based on an ancient form used by the Turks for shooting from horseback. Up to four stabilizing rods may project from the handle of the bow; these fiberglass, graphite, or aluminum rods absorb vibration and reduce bow torque upon arrow release. The maze of gleaming rods, limbs, sights and arrows at the equipment and shooting lines resembles nothing so much as a pipe fitter’s dream.
Virtually all arrows used in world class competition today are metallic anodized, precision drawn aluminum shafts. Shot from a 18.675 kilograms, such an arrow travels at an average speed of 202-217 km per hour.
To control a single shot, archers perform seven distinct, rhythmic functions: they take a comfortable stance; they grip the bow firmly but without tension; they fit the arrow to the string; they clear their minds of all thought and feeling. They then draw the bow and anchor beneath their chin. Making the final aiming point adjustment through their forward mounted peep sight, they concentrate on the sight pin. Finally they loosen their three-finger grip on the Kevlar synthetic string and the arrow releases. A smooth, simultaneous release is crucial. The bow hand must be steady and in the follow—through position; the archer must remain momentarily in the status quo while the bow rocks forward. Gold medalist Pace calls this concentrated effort, “lashing the body to the bow.”
Jim Easton, LAOOC commissioner of Archery, was keenly aware of the intricate relationship between the Olympics and world archery competition. “Archery would probably be one-tenth the size it is today without the Olympic games,” he said.
In Los Angeles, 35 nations, 109 archers were represented at the shooting line. Included in the original Games of the Modern Era, dropped in 1920, and later reinstated, archery is today a permanent Olympic fixture.
The “double FITA” round shot by the world’s Olympic archers is the marathon event of the sport. Still, there was only applause for the medalists, no victory laps with a national flag before a hundred-thousand cheering spectators and no storm of reporters and photographers. The athletes in El Dorado Park knew, nevertheless, they were all winners, all champions, all the finest in the world.
Dr. Helen Bolnick, co-director of the USA National Archery Association’s college division perhaps said it best: “Go to the Olympics and you see the very best, the very best in the world. It’s absolutely breathtaking.” And it was.