A is for Archery

Justin Huish, gold medal Archery 1996
Justin Huish won gold in Individual and Team Archery, Atlanta 1996. Photo by Getty Images.

I am missing my sports! Plus, I have no desire to write about the C word (you know, C-19, which is an unlucky number anyway.)

So I came across this A to Z Challenge–just today! looking for inspiration. It’s always amazing to stumble upon these entire segments of the writing community. Everybody seemed to know about this already, since there were 400+ bloggers signed up. A 26-day challenge will be a great way to spend the next few weeks, when we all have to stay inside anyway.

I am coming late to the party, so forgive me if I don’t follow guidelines. I gather that I’m supposed to publish every day and use letters of the alphabet. The obvious next question is what kind of theme would make sense for me? If you’ve read some of my stuff or know me, you might think…. something historical, obscure math problems, Shakespeare (I considered that, though there weren’t any X’s or Z’s… maybe next year), chocolate, curious science… but then, of course, it was OBVIOUS!

The Olympics! It’s my passion; I wrote a book about ’em. I had blocked Tokyo 2020 off on my calendar and was counting the days until rumors began rumbling about postponement, which of course was necessary. Can’t practice if you can’t even go outside. Still, I was in a funk for a week. However, now I can count down until July 23, 2021 instead. Meanwhile… A is obviously for Archery… so here are a few interesting tidbits to start off the month.

Shoot through the House

The archer I remember most is Justin Huish, who was a 20-something Gen-X skateboarder turned archer in 1996, when he came to Atlanta sporting a goatee, wraparound sunglasses, and a backwards cap. He had only been practicing archery for a few years, but his parents sold archery equipment when he was growing up, so it wasn’t entirely new. He was also world-ranked only 24th when he started the Olympics competition but ended up in the finals, beating Sweden’s Magnus Petterson. Conventional wisdom said he wasn’t old enough to be nervous, which often happens with Olympic ingenues.

Huish wasn’t well known to the world, but because he was American and Californian (local to me), he had been featured on the news. Of particular interest was the way he practiced. Since he needed to shoot a lot and the nearest range required him to endure terrible Simi Valley traffic, he used his house. He would put the target in his backyard and then was able to open all the doors–back yard, kitchen door, front door–so that he could stand in the street and shoot all the way down the hallway.

Mom always said, don’t shoot arrows in the house! She never said anything about shooting them through the house…

Archery in the modern Olympics is probably due to Inger Frith. Photo from WorldArchery.org.

Thanks to a Danish Woman

While archery was part of the Olympics at the turn of the 20th century, the program was dropped for fifty years. Chroniclers have suggested that the primary reason for its return to Munch in 1972 was the strong influence of Inger Frith, the first woman president of the World Archery Federation. ( Fédération Internationale de Tir à l’arc which also has a nice ring to it.)

Captain Inger Frith was a pilot in the Danish Air Force in World War II, possibly the highest ranking woman in the Danish army at the time. She was also a world-class archer and rose to become the first female president of an international sports federation. As she guided the FIT or WAF from 1961-1977, her crowning achievement was persuading Avery Brundage and the IOC to bring archery back.

In 1972, only individual men’s and women’s events were held, with American men and women taking many of the medals, along with an excellent team from the USSR. In 1988, a team event was added for both genders, but that wasn’t the biggest change. The Seoul Olympics saw the rise of the current archery superpower: South Korea.

The traditional Korean bow, called a “gakgung,” has a shooting range of up to 145 meters. Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA at Archery360.com.

Dongi: People Who Make and Shoot Arrows Well

There’s debate about why the South Koreans became such a dominant power in archery. Maybe it was because they were such fearsome shooters on horseback in the fifth century that the more powerful Chinese army labelled them “dongi” with respect. (Arguably, that ought to make Mongolians or Welsh dominant in Olympic archery, too, which isn’t the case. Though I for one would love to see Equestrian/Archery combo, the 70-Meters on Horseback.) Maybe it’s because some Koreans are taught archery as children in school. Some Koreans call it a “national sport,” although others say it only rose in favor when the athletes started winning medals, not the other way around.

It might also be that South Korea, knowing that they were hosting the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, sought ought sports that they might excel at and specifically chose archery as one of them. They also had a few outstanding coaches and talented athletes, such as Kim Soo-nyung who won six medals over four Olympics, to build a program around. Whatever the reason, like water polo in Yugoslavia, freestyle wrestling in Japan, diving in China, and beach volleyball in the United States, South Korea became the team to beat. South Korea has won individual gold on the women’s side in eight consecutive Olympics, one of the longest-running active streaks across any sport. If they win in Tokyo next year, that ninth win could tie the record.

The Prospector

Meanwhile, on the men’s side, Brady Ellison has been the best hope for Team USA for several years. Already winning two silvers and a bronze in London and Rio, Ellison has remained world ranked for the last few years, so a strong showing in Tokyo is still a possibility, even with the delay until next year.

Ellison held the longest number one ranking for a men’s recurve archer from 2011-2013. He’s been nicknamed both the “Arizona Cowboy” and “The Prospector” because he seemed to excel at finding gold, i.e. target center, which seems so appropriate for the Olympic competitions.

Ah, but I knew C-19 would end up in here, somehow. According to the World Archery Federation, all rankings are frozen as of April 1st because there are no competitions planned until we’re past, you know, the C word. The men’s rankings for recurve are currently Brady Ellison, Lee Woo Seok (KOR), and Kim Woojin (KOR). The women’s top three are Kang Chae Young (KOR), Tan Ya-Ting (Taipei), and Zheng Yichai (CHN). On the women’s side, it looks like a fierce team competition may arise among the South Koreans, Chinese Taipei, Chinese, and Russian teams. Watch for that the last week of July 2021, when archery is among the earliest of events.

Twenty-five More Days

I could go down that archery rabbit hole for a few more hours, but stopping here is good. I hope you appreciated thinking about something besides the plague for a few minutes and wonder what th’heck I’ll do with B and the Olympics. I’ve no idea, can’t wait to find out!

Frankly, I’m more worried about X and Z, and, in fact, I just looked in a few indices, and there aren’t any athletes who start with a Q. I’ll have to target that bridge when I come to it… see what I did there? Hey, at least we can take a break from C-word jokes.

4 Replies to “A is for Archery”

  1. Glad you found the A to Z challenge! It’s fun!
    I like your post about archery – wonderful start, and I’ll look forward to what you find for the other letters coming up. 🙂

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