Could Compound Archery Join
the Olympic Games? Could Compound Archery Join the Olympic Games?

What if there were twice as much archery in the Olympics? That would mean twice as many thrilling archery matches on sports’ biggest stage. Thankfully, that possibility is more than a dream.

The recurve bow is the only archery style the International Olympic Committee recognizes. However, the compound bow is one step closer to joining recurves in the Olympics. That’s because World Archery recently announced compounds will be part of the 2019 Pan American Games. Being recognized by a multi-sport continental championship like the Pan Am Games is an important step for compound archery’s bid for the Olympics.

Archery fans should be excited. Very excited. If compounds join the Olympics, archery would be a multi-discipline sport like fencing, gymnastics, equestrian, wrestling, cycling and volleyball. Compound archery would be a distinct event with different competitors from recurve archery. It would be much like fencing’s foil, in which the epee and saber follow different rules and feature different competitors. Twice as many competitors, bows and arrows? We’ll take it!

You probably have lots of questions. Don’t worry. We have answers.

What are the Pan American Games?

The Pan American Games occur every four years, one year before the Olympics. They’re an Olympic type event for countries in North America and South America. The Pan Am Games are testing grounds for Olympic athletes, and sports seeking to be part of the Olympics. Karate, for instance, was added to the Pan Am Games and other continental multi-sport events before becoming an Olympic sport.

Compound vs. Recurve?

Recurve bows are classic, simple and give archers few mechanical advantages. A modern Olympic recurve bow might look highly advanced, but it’s similar to its ancient counterparts. In the Olympics, men and women recurve archers shoot at a 122-centimeter target 70 meters away. The target’s gold area is roughly the size of a basketball, and Olympians hit it nearly every time.

Compounds are the world’s most advanced bows. They’re more accurate than recurves because their features reduce human error. For instance, compounds used in target archery have magnified sights for precision aiming. Compound archers also use mechanical aids to release the string instead of fingers, which recurve archers use.

Compounds use pulley systems featuring cams and wheels, which make them easier to draw and more energy-efficient. All that extra stored energy unleashes markedly faster arrow speeds. Those systems also increase the bow’s let-off, which allows archers to hold less weight at full draw. For example, archers shooting a compound bow with a 50-pound draw weight might hold only 15 pounds at full draw, depending on its system.

That makes compounds easier to hold at full draw and easier to carefully aim to increase accuracy. In target competition, for instance, compound-bow archers shoot at 80-centimeter targets 50 meters away. The compound target’s 10-ring is 3.15 inches in diameter, about the size of a baseball. In match play, compound archers often hit the 10-ring every time.

Compounds and recurves require different shooting styles and tournament formats, too. Tom Dielen, World Archery’s president, told the New York Times: “Recurve is a sport of execution and not so much aiming. Compound is more aiming and precision.”

Why no Compounds in the Olympics?


In Olympic archery, recurve archers stand 70 meters (about 76 yards) from the target. The target measures 122 centimeters (about 48 inches) in diameter and includes 10 concentric rings, with each ring increasing in point value from 1 to 10. Photo Credit: World Archery

The 1920 Olympics dropped archery, but it returned in the 1972 Olympics. Compound bows were still a new technology in 1972 and not popular internationally. World Archery, Olympic archery’s governing body, did not include compound bows in its World Archery Championship until 1995.

In an interview with USA Archery, Dielen said Jim Easton – former president of Jas. D. Easton and president of the World Archery Federation – first requested compounds be included in the Olympics in the late 1990s. However, he was told it was impossible to add athletes, the disciplines were too similar, and the compound bow lacked appeal and participation in many countries. “What’s more, at that time, the position of archery was not as strong as it is now,” Dielen said.

America dominated compound archery for years, and compound bows are now growing in popularity worldwide. Europe, South America and Asian countries have strong compound teams and excellent coaching. Their international popularity now make the compound bow a viable candidate for the Olympics.

Will Compounds be in the Olympics?

Compound bows use pulley systems featuring cams and wheels, which make them easier to draw and more energy-efficient. Photo Credit: World Archery

Compound archery is closer than ever to joining the Olympics, and it’s now part of multi-sport events like the Asian Games, World Games and Pan Am Games. Those are huge steps in compound archery’s push for the Olympics. In an interview with USA Archery, Dielen said the IOC sees the World Games as a test platform for new events.

Compound bows in the Olympics would have far-reaching impacts. Archery is one of the Olympics’ most popular sports. At the 2012 Olympics, archery generated the highest TV ratings of any sport, even basketball. At the 2016 Olympics, archery rated second on TV to swimming. With millions of people worldwide watching archery, it will likely keep growing in popularity and participation.

In an interview with USA Archery, Dielen said adding compounds to the Olympics would benefit archery. “There would be increased exposure, and the opportunity for more Olympic archery medals,” Dielen said. “It would give more chances for different countries to win medals.”

If you can’t wait for the next Olympics or Pan American Games to watch recurve and compound-bow archers competing at the highest level, watch World Archery’s YouTube channel for videos of international competitions.

And if you’re interested in trying archery, the best place to start is your local archery shop. Find it here.

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