Olympic Archery Q&A | Everything Explained
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Olympic Archery Q&A | Everything Explained

August 14, 2019


Hey guys, this is NUSensei. With the Olympic Games in Rio finished we have another 4 year wait until the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. In the meantime, there have been plenty of questions about what people have seen on TV. Now, I have already made a video covering immediate questions people had about archery at the Olympics. But this video will go through a far more comprehensive list of questions, making this the one-stop video for all things Olympic archery. First question, what exactly are they using at the Olympics? Most people may not be familiar with the large colourful, flashy, recurve bows used at the Olympic Games. Instead, you may be more familiar with bows like the traditional, medieval English longbow. At best, you may recognise bows such as this. A simple, basic wooden recurve bow. This, is an Olympic style target recurve. The classification that is actually shot at the Olympics is known as freestyle recurve. This defines the kind of equipment permitted on your bow. Apart from the bow itself, freestyle recurve allows you to use sights and stabilisers. While these bows may look entirely different, they actually function exactly the same. Yes, even though it looks a lot fancier, this is effectively the same bow. You pull it back and you let it go. What makes modern target recurve a bit different, is the addition of sights and stabilisers. Sights allow you to have a clear visual reference allowing you to adjust for elevation and windage. These long rods are stabilisers. These add weight to the bow, bringing it more balance and stability. There’s also one more distinct feature in a modern bow and this leads to my second question which is very frequently asked. What’s that thing that moves, at the front of the bow, just before the archer lets go. This very small strip here, is called a clicker. As you can probably imagine, it clicks. Despite what it looks like, the clicker is not a locking mechanism. It doesn’t make shooting easier. What it does, it acts as a draw length indicator. The way recurve bows work, is that the more you pull it back, the more energy is in the bow. The problem with this, is that if you don’t draw the bow to the exact same spot every single time, then every shot will have a different amount of energy. That means the arrow will have a different velocity each time. This in turn, means that the arrow does not hit the same spot every time. The way the clicker works, is that the archer will draw the string until they hear the clicker go off. This tells them, that they have reached their consistent point of release. On hearing the click, the archer will immediately release the string. This simple tool allows the archer to ensure some degree of consistency. Eliminating one variable and giving the archer the chance to get more consistent groupings at longer distances. The next question is also very frequently asked. Why do Olympic archers throw their bow forwards? Despite what it looks like, this isn’t a flourish. The reason why archers drop the bow after shooting is because they are not actually holding the bow. The bow for most people is held around the grip like this. However, when gripping the bow, it actually creates uneven tension because of the muscles in the fingers and the hand. To maintain maximum stability, the archer actually holds the bow without the fingers wrapped around the riser. So it sits in their hand and when drawn back there is no extra pressure on the riser. Because of this, the bow is allowed to jump out of their hands. Olympic archers will usually wear finger slings like this one, which catches the bow on release. So effectively, the bow will jump out and swing freely. If the bow is allowed to jump out like that, this means the archer has achieved their goal of minimising the amount of tension in the grip. Note that every archer has a different follow through. The one that catches your eye the most is probably the one used by most of the Korean archers. Where they shoot and the bow rotates very dynamically like that. Now, this isn’t the best way to follow through. Although it is working. Point being is that the follow through is simply an extension of what the archer is doing and it doesn’t actually matter that much exactly how you follow through. While some archers will prefer the rotation like that. Other archers prefer to swing outwards, others will swing inwards, some will let the bow hit their leg or otherwise fall behind them. There is no optimum best way. The follow through provides an immediate sense of feedback. An archer will probably know what will happen to the shot, before the arrow hits the target. So, an archer who will continually spin the bow around every single shot, might feel confident that every shot will hit the gold. In contrast, archers who are snatching the bow or doing something slightly differently may feel that the shot has changed. This doesn’t mean the shot is bad. You do often see archers who are pulling away very violently, will still hit a 10. The shot has to be corrected in the split-second before the release. But the archer will probably not feel good because they haven’t done the same thing. They have done something different and it may be a slight fluke or just years of experience that fix the issue before it hit the target. The next question is fairly straight forward. How far are they shooting? This is a good question because the TV clips will show the archer and the target a second later without really showing exactly how far it really is. The distance they shoot is 70m. The target size is 122cm in diameter. The thing they are aiming for, the bulleye, the 10 ring, how big is it? Take a coffee mug and you place it on the target. The coffee mug is only slightly smaller than the 10 ring. You have to hit a coffee mug at 70m, for a maximum 10 points. Some people might be wondering, can you use a medieval English longbow at the Olympic Games? While technically there may not be anything against the rules. The simple fact of the matter is that an English longbow, or any traditional bow, stands no chance. The scores that they get would not even qualify for the Olympics. Let alone, beat an Olympic archer. It simply isn’t competitive. Now I am not saying this because I am elitist or a snob, this is simple fact and I can back this up. If you look at any national or world record for barebow. Barebow is a division that covers the modern target bow, without any sights or stabilisers. Now the records for barebow with no sights is far below that of a modern freestyle recurve. We are talking about 50, 100 or more points behind the records. These are the best national barebow shooters who are simply unable to match the accuracy, precision and consistency of a modern target recurve bow. So if a modern barebow can’t match a modern sighted freestyle bow, then a medieval bow does not stand a chance. I’m sorry for you fans of Robin Hood and traditional bows, they simply aren’t that accurate. You may see them shoot very accurately at close distances, but at the competitive target distances of 70m or above they simply don’t have that level of accuracy. So if accuracy is a problem, why aren’t compound bows used at the Olympic Games? That’s a really good question and I don’t really have a clear answer for that. Now there are some technical issues and some philosophical issues. For some people, they might argue that compound bows are too accurate. They do all the work for the archer. There’s not enough athletic effort in shooting a compound bow. Some others might argue that, it’s simply too easy to shoot bullseyes. The top compound archers will shoot 10s, nearly 99% of the time. So it doesn’t make for some very exciting watching, for a spectator. Now this is arguable because compound is a classification in World Archery. It’s the other discipline in World Cups and World Championships. So recurve and compound can compete in their own divisions separately, as it is. It’s already successful. But the Olympic Games is slightly different and I guess the main reason behind this, might be a logistical or organisational issue. The IOC is generally reluctant to expand sports at the Olympics. Mostly due to the capacity of the host city to actually run the event and get athletes to come. Adding a compound event will increase the number of athletes and coaching staff and volunteers, by hundreds if not thousands. This can be a huge load for the city and that may be the main factor behind why it can’t be used at the Olympics. Could it work? Probably. Will it happen? It may. But it does have to go through a due process. Some observant people may notice that when the archers go from the call room to the stage where they are introduced. They are carrying two bows. Why do they carry two bows? The answer is very simple, the second bow is a backup bow. In case anything goes wrong with their first bow. This is extremely rare and I don’t think this has really happened before. Now in a normal competition event, that’s not an Olympic event, archers are given the chance to repair any damage or malfunction, with their bow. But in the elite level and the knock-out round, there is simply no time for an archer to stop shooting and fix their bow. So, if there is an issue, they have a bow already prepared and exactly calibrated the way their first bow is. So they can switch bows any time and shoot each one as if it was their regular bow. The likelihood of a bow malfunctioning is so low, that it is not uncommon for elite competitive archers to go through their whole careers without using their backup bow in competition. You may often find pro shops, selling backup bows owned by former athletes as is, because they are fantastic bows, excellently tuned and calibrated, but never been used. A second bow, as far as I know, is not required for competition at the Olympic Games and some athletes don’t have a second bow because bows are quite expensive. That conveniently leads to my next question. How much does a bow like this actually cost? Now the Olympic bows used by the elite athletes can easily cost over US$3000. In fact, a single arrow may cost around $50. Now fortunately, not all target bows are that expensive. The entry to intermediate bows, may cost between $600 to $1000 all up, for the entire kit and the basic wooden recurves can cost around US$120. Or you can spend ten bucks and make a DIY PVC bow. Next question. Why do archers often wear bucket hats? This is mostly a practical matter, rather than a fashionable one. Most archers can’t wear caps. Caps have a hard peak, which means that the string will come in contact and make it really awkward. Some archers do wear caps, they can get away with it because the caps are placed differently or have smaller peaks, or their face shape allows them to wear a cap without it interfering with their shot. Most archers wear bucket hats, because they are softer they can flip it up and it won’t interfere with their technique. You may have noticed that for really close calls, you see the line judges coming in with magnifying glasses to determine whether an arrow has crossed the line. Now you might be wondering why don’t they use technology like Hawkeye? They actually do. I believe the system used for the World events, are based off FalcoEye and it does allow immediate score registration. However, this is currently only used for the spectators and for the announcer. The actual scores must be confirmed by the judge. This is actually in the laws of the sport and the laws can only change through a majority vote at the World Archery level. Now for a very serious question. Why does archery look so easy and why is it even in the Olympic Games? Firstly, it actually is not that easy. Remember, what you are seeing is an archer who has trained for years, shot thousands of arrows and competing at the top level on the World stage. These are the World’s best archers. They expect to hit golds. But also bear in mind that even this is not consistent. Even in the ranking rounds and the knock-out rounds, archers at the very top are still missing the gold and hitting reds or even blues. This at 70m is very hard. Skill wise, it looks easy, but it really isn’t. It takes years to get to that level. Archery is also extremely physically extensive. Not to the same extent as running around and playing football, but instead it’s physically demanding in more of a weight lifting thing. Now you might think, well that look so easy, just pull it back and let go. Bear in mind that your bows that you’ve seen or used may be really light bows, like toy bows, plastic bows. Even the beginner bows used at clubs are only 15 lb or 20 lbs. The bows used by the elite competitive archers are 40, 50, 55 lbs. The average female elite archer will use around 45. The elite male archers use around 55. So that’s around 15, 18, 20 kg on the finger tips. Now, this weight is loaded on to the back and shoulders. Making this more akin to doing weights at a gym. It’s not that easy. You might think, oh yeah, one shot maybe. But these guys are shooting 72 arrows for a ranking round and maybe 300 arrows a day for a normal training session. That is very tiring. It forces you to be strong. It forces you to build endurance and stamina. That’s why archery is an athletic sport. You have to work for every single shot. This is not an automatic response. This is years of training and conditioning to shoot at the very top level. So, why are men and women separated? Well, technically they can shoot together and at low levels they often do. The physical differences are enough to justify keeping them in separate classes. Men are generally stronger than women and while there is no rule requiring men to shoot heavier bows, they usually do. A typical male, elite athlete will shoot around a 50 to 55 lb bow. Women shoot around 10 lbs lower. That’s a pretty big difference. A heavier bow, means faster arrows, which means generally, more consistency because it is less affected by wind drift. So men generally do out score women and physically there is a difference. There has also been some research done on women’s hormone levels and how it affects their athletic performance. But, fact of the matter is, women consistently score lower than men. Archery is not entirely a skill based sport. It is a strength based sport. An endurance based sport and a mental focussed sport and generally, I am not saying men are better than women in any way. But men do generally score higher. It’s the same in shooting sports as well. Finally, the big question is why are the South Koreans so good? They win everything! This is actually not true. Prior to the 1988 Seoul games, the Americans actually won more gold medals in the men’s individual. The Koreans have dominated in the women’s but the men’s not so much. They have always had strong archers, but not always the best archers. So things have changed in the last twenty or thirty years. Some might say that Korea benefits from having a tradition of archery and they do. But this alone doesn’t mean that a country will do well, I mean, England has a strong archery tradition. But they don’t do well on the World stage. Turkey, Mongolia, Bhutan, they have very strong archery traditions and communities. But they don’t necessarily translate to performance at the sport style, Olympic style archery at World level. So, this alone isn’t a factor. In my opinion, the most definitive factor is the amount of investment the country gives to its athletes. A country which has lots of government funding and support and especially corporate funding will invest more in training facilities, training programmes and good coaches. And especially, trained coaches at the grass roots level, to get archers from their first shot to elite level. And while you may get the occasional person who does really well. The fact of the matter is, you want to have a institutionalised, regimented training system. Where you can guarantee more people will go through the system and become good athletes. This is the same for any sport. Be it soccer, archery, shooting, sailing, swimming, athletics. This is why certain countries excel in certain sports. The Americans for example are very good at shooting and at track and field. The Australians are generally very good at swimming and the South Koreans are very good at archery. It isn’t a national stereotype. These things aren’t always national sports and some people think, hang on, Korea has archery as a national sport – it doesn’t. The national sports in Korea, South Korea, are soccer or football and baseball. That’s what everyone is exposed to. Archery is still a very niche sport. But the few people who do it are well trained, well supported and compete for few national spots. This increases the quality of the athlete, it increases the quality of the coaching. That is why South Korean coaches are sought after worldwide. There is no national or racial bias in this regard, in my opinion. A South Korean isn’t naturally gifted to be a good archer. It’s the same for things like badminton or table tennis. It’s not a natural disposition for these sports and as some races are more inclined to perform well in certain events. I don’t think archery is one of them. The reason why I think South Korea dominates in archery is because of the system they have in place to ensure that people who want to compete have a pathway to the very top. In comparison, another country with a mostly volunteer national association, may not have the same support mechanism to guarantee archers into the World level. Wow, this has been a fairly long video and I hope I have covered nearly every obvious question people ask about archery. Of course I’m going to miss a few. If you have more questions, feel free to ask below and I will answer them as best I can. Thank you for watching, this is NUSensei. I hope you found this interesting and helpful and I will see you next time.

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  1. I've been wondering, if a concentration and focus is in demand why can't they use some earplugs to boost it a bit? Are they prohibited?

  2. Excellent video, as usual 🙂

    However, I'd like to point out one slight – but important – detail about compound bows and Olympic games.

    Compound bows are used in Paralympic games. My favourite compound shooter is Danielle Brown. She has won gold twice in Paralympic Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012).

  3. In the country contest, I saw 2 of the 3 Mexican women using some sort of finger bandages. This was in addition to a tab. It looked cumbersome to me and I'd expect something like that to hinder accuracy in releasing. But they were at the Olympics, so obviously the use of these bandages was intentional and they were doing fine with them. But what are they used for? Finger protection? Extra support? Something else?

  4. hehe, comments on the accuracy of medieval longbows made me chuckle. we had a shooting at the marks (shooting at flags spread out in a field) practice last week, I won one round with the closest arrow that landed about 30ft from the target mark! Made me chuckle at the time as it's quite a contrast with what you see with Olympic archery!

  5. I have noticed that there are some events where there are mixed sexes in the games. As bows are regularly created for the shooter, how come there is no mixed event in Archery?

  6. Very good presentation covered a lot of good points. In fact my mother was asking about some of points you made while we were watching the Olympic archery such as the stabilisers and the clicker as I do sport recurve myself and I shot traditional. I thought there were gonna be those who would try and argue the accuracy point but I am glad so far there hasn't been. Because as you say there is no competition modern recurve bows will always out shoot traditional bows at such a distance.

  7. NUSensei – Great summary and much appreciated. I'm a traditional recurve & flat bow (deflex reflex) bow archer @ 35, 42 & 45 pounds. Super archery info, thank you. Stay on the X spot!

  8. mechanically the modern target recurve bow is engineered for increased consistency, and reduced interference; in respect and relation to archers who have become adept in their sense of discipline. I enjoy your videos greatly. very informational and precise. 70+ m targets can be a son-of-a-bitch for the lot of us with any bow really XDDD,

  9. Hahahaha.. yeah, saying Koreans are the best at archery because of tradition is a gas for sure. Things can easily be appropriated by another culture and then made even better. Look at what Brazilians did to Ju Jitsu to make BJJ. And plenty of top guys aren't even Brazilian and lots of top Muay Thai and Kickboxers are Dutch. It's all about the time you put in and the efficacy of what you train.

  10. First off thank you for taking the time to make all these videos, I'm a competitive rifle shooter and just got into archery to expand in my shooting discipline. I went to a local shop where I live and picked up a Fleetwood bare bow recurve. I was measured and tested, and found that a 62" 30 pound bow fits me just perfectly and gives me a little room to grow on the draw weight side. We tried a 35 and it was too difficult, my arm was shaking before I even got a full draw on it, and the 25 was too easy. After watching this video the only question I really have is how high to the center of the target is the target for olympic shooting? You covered the distance of 70m but not the height.

  11. I'm curious as to how riser length is determined. I assume there's an ILF measuring standard, but I'm having a hard time finding anything about it.

  12. In the case of compound bows at Olympics. When the compound bow was born archery was already back at the olympics, and has been rejected ever since on two grownds: compared with the recurve competition it is easier to hit 10s, no discussion there. and the other reason is that compound head-to-head is too similar to recurve events. No new offer.

    Current efforts to bring compound archery to the olympics are centered on field archery (summer or Winter olympics) and indoor (Winter Olympics). Non were voted possitively last COI reunión.

  13. I'd like to see a traditional longbow with a sight and stabilizer, and good archer practiced up with it. I bet it would be almost but not quite as good.

  14. Thanks for a great video. I have a question. Why don't Olympic archers use a string peep sight? Many years ago I shot informal indoor target archery at a local range and most of the archers back then at this range used them. This was in the middle 1960's. I shot a Wing Presentation 2 takedown recurve and did quite well with it. Getting the string peep to align with the eye took some time to get adjusted but once that was done it was spot on every time.

  15. why is it not possible for an ethnicity like Koreans(Far-East/Northeast Asia) to be more genetically gifted for a fine-motor precision sport like archery when West African populations clearly have more potential in sprinting sports for example, it's entirely possible.

    The same thing with IQ apparently human ethnicities can show different averages for all sort of phyiscal characteristics, but when you mention the possibilty that they just MIGHT diverge for certain mental abilities too you are immediatly called racist and that possibility is immediately comsidered "harmful rasict and unscientific" and discarded

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