Archery: Precarious Olympic History
Archery originally was included in the Olympic Games only at the request of the national archery association of the host country. International rules did not exist; the rules of the host country were used. Archery first appeared during the 1900 games in Paris. Archery consisted of horizontal target shooting (tir au berceau), with the crossbow and with the handbow, and vertical popinjay shooting (tir à la perche) with the handbow. The crossbow contests were held at 35, 28, and 20 meters. The horizontal handbow contests, held at 50 and 33 meters, had two events: shooting at the large target (au cordon doré) and at the small target (au chapelet). Popinjay shooting was practiced at a 28- meter-tall mast. All medals were shared among French and Belgian entrants. Hubert Van Innis (1866–1961) from Belgium won two gold medals in the 33-meter target events and one silver medal in the 50-meter target au cordon doré.
During the 1904 Olympics women participated for the first time in archery. All competitors—men and women—were from the United States. The men shot the double York round (55, 46, and 37 meters) and the double American round individually (55, 45, and 36 meters) and in teams (55 meters). The U.S. archery pioneer William Thompson won two bronze individual medals and one team gold medal as a member of the winning Potomac Archers from Washington, D.C. Among the women Mrs. M. C. Howell won three gold medals: in the double national round (55 and 45 meters), in the double Columbia round individually (45, 36, and 27 meters), and in teams (55, 45, and 44 meters) as member of the Cincinnati Archery Club. During the Olympics’ so-called Anthropological Days, U.S. archers competed against a number of “savages” from different parts of the globe. Whereas the white U.S. contestants placed practically all their arrows at the 1.2-meter square target board at 36 meters, the “savages” hardly hit the target at all. This carnivalistic contest with racist undertones upset Olympics organizer Pierre de Coubertin of France, who had not been present and who called it a vulgar experiment not to be repeated.
A typical archery lineup at a modern competition.
For the 1908 Olympics in London, the Grand National Archery Society and the Royal Toxophilite Society joined to organize three days of shooting in the new stadium at Shepherd’s Bush, England. They drew up clear rules of competition, including a regard for courtesy. For example, one rule stated: “Gentlemen will not be allowed to smoke at the ladies’ targets.” The competing teams consisted of twenty-five women and fifteen men from Britain, eleven men from France, and one man from the United States. British archers won gold and silver in the York round, but Henry B. Richardson, the U.S. champion, won the bronze medal. The only women competitors were British. French archers won all medals in the continental style (50 meters).
Archery next appeared in the Olympics in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium. Archery was Belgium’s national sport, but it was rather idiosyncratic. Hence, the Royal Toxophilite Society of England decided not to enter the competition because the rules restricted archery to popinjay shooting and to target shooting at “uncommon” distances. Only archers from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands took part. No women’s events were held. Popinjay shooting was practiced at a 31- meter-tall mast both in teams (six archers plus two reserves) and individually. Target archery contests were organized at 28 meters with a target of 60 centimeters, at 33 meters with a target of 72 centimeters, and at 50 meters with a target of 120 centimeters. Archers from Belgium won practically all the gold medals. After having already won three medals in Paris twenty years before, Hubert Van Innis of Belgium won three more gold and two more silver medals, making him the greatest archery olympionike (“Olympic champion” in Greek) in history. Archery then disappeared from the Olympics for more than fifty years, probably because of the lack of an international governing body. In 1931 the Federation Internationale de Tir a l’Arc (FITA) was founded at Lwow, Poland, with representatives from Poland, Belgium, France, and Sweden. This founding began a new era in international archery. FITA rules and regulations were internationally adopted. One year later the United Kingdom joined FITA. Under the leadership of Oscar Kessels of Belgium (1957–1961) and Mrs. Inger K. Frith of Great Britain (1962–1977), archery was voted back into the Olympic Games in 1968.
FITA rules were recognized throughout the world. In the single FITA round, competitors shoot six sets of six arrows from distances of 90, 70, 50, and 30 meters. Women’s rounds have distances of 70, 60, 50, and 30 meters. In Olympic competitions athletes shoot a double round, which comprises seventy-two arrows at the same distances. During the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, two U.S. athletes—John Williams and Wilber Doreen—won gold medals in the men’s double FITA and the women’s double, respectively. Both established Olympic and world records.
The 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada, featured men and women archers from twenty-five countries. At the boycotted games of 1980 in Moscow and 1984 in Los Angeles, archery was represented but without splendor. At the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, the South Koreans dominated the team and the women’s competitions. South Korean women dominated the individual and team competitions at the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain, the 1996 games in Atlanta, Georgia, the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, and the 2004 games in Athens, Greece. Among the men Simon Fairweather of Australia won gold in Sydney, and Marco Galiazzo of Italy won gold in Athens in the individual events; the Korean men won the team events in both Olympics.