The Joy of the Olympics: Archery

This is a sport which changed its Olympic format, and basically re-invented itself, to enormous effect. The contest has now become adversarial, with competitors facing off in head-to-head battles, after a ranking round, which make for considerably more interesting viewing. It’s set-based, with each competitor firing three arrows, alternately. The highest total score wins the set, and gets two points – one each if the scores are level. First to five points wins. It’s elegant in its simplicity, easy to understand and follow.

Watching on TV, you don’t get a very good sense of the distance involved, which is one of the most impressive elements. The target is 70m away, about three-quarters the length of a football field. The “10” zone at the centre of the target to which they’re aiming, is a mere 12.2 cm across. And you’re shooting outside, so have to allow for the effect of the wind. Frankly, it’s impressive that the targets are hit at all. I sometimes have trouble chucking things at a dart-board, from eight feet.

This does not, of course, stop us sucking our breath in through our teeth, when a competitor strays from the highest scoring gold region, into the red – or, woe betide them, the icy wilderness of the blue. “Held it too long,” we’ll say, nodding wisely and enjoying another Dorito. Yet it’s also almost endearingly casual in attire. Shorts are common, along with the kind of floppy hat your mother might wear. The Asian archers are particularly fond of these, as shown below. The European and Americans seem to prefer baseball caps, which does at least imply sport, more than puttering about in the garden. / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is in contrast to the bows, which are to a childhood toy, as a F1 car is to your trike. They have all manner of protrusions and projections, which I assume are intended to improve the weapon’s balance. Seems a bit flaky to me. I don’t recall Katniss Everdeen needing all those add-ons in that well-known archery documentary, The Hunger Games. Nor was I aware she was Korean. For the Olympics turned out to be a charity medal donation project for Korea. Their women, for example, have won every single team gold since it entered the games in 1988.

Not that Koreans were universally happy with this. Gold medalist in the women’s individual event, An San, was subjected to harsh online criticism at home over her hairstyle, which was apparently “too feminist”. Let’s just hope they never discover table tennis, or Korea might end up invading China for hairdo reasons. It wouldn’t end well. But for sheer drama, it’s hard to beat the matches which go to a single dart shoot-off, closest to the middle winning. The ability to stay calm in that circumstance, is almost as amazing as their ability to hit something the size of an apple, from what feels like a different postcode.