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The History of Olympic Archery

Archery is one of the oldest sports in the world, so it seems fitting that it’s also one of the oldest sports in the Olympic Games. But despite making its Olympic debut more than a century ago, archery hasn’t consistently been a part of the games. Here’s a look at how Olympic archery has changed over the years and the exciting changes you’ll see in the upcoming Tokyo Games.   

The Early Years

The Athens 1896 Olympic Games marked the beginning of what is now considered the modern-day iteration of the Olympic Games. These were the first Olympics held under the authority of the International Olympic Committee. The games attracted 14 nations and 241 athletes, and featuring 43 sports. However, archery didn’t make the cut that first year. 

Instead, archery debuted at the Olympics held at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Athletes competed in the sport again in 1904, and it was the only event that allowed women that year. The 1908 and 1920 games also included archery.   

In the early years of Olympic archery competition, the host country set the rules. This was before standardized archery competition rules were put in place by the World Archery Federation. Inconsistent rules made it difficult for athletes to prepare and often favored the host country’s athletes. This forced archery out of the Olympics, at least for a while. After the 1920 games, it would be more than 50 years before the Olympics would see archers on the field again. 

The Return of Archery

By the 1930s, a growing number of people were pushing for archery to return to the Olympics. But athletes knew there needed to be a set of universal rules, which would require a governing body. In 1931, seven founding member states – Italy, France, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the United States – created the World Archery Federation (formerly FITA). 

In addition to its Olympic duties, World Archery is responsible for regulating and promoting archery around the world. Upon its inception, the organization began to regulate the sport and develop regular archery championships. This was an important step in archery’s return to the games because all Olympic sports are run by international federations. After a 52-year absence, archery returned to the Olympics at the Munich 1972 Games. 

The Rules

Since archery’s return to the Olympics, there have been several innovative rule changes to further test the skills of archers and make the events more exciting to watch. These include head-to-head competition and single-elimination brackets. Recurve is the only archery discipline featured at the Olympic Games. Medal events include men’s and women’s individual, and men’s and women’s teams. But there’s a big change on the horizon. For the first time in Olympic history, mixed teams will have a shot at gold – in the sport’s fifth medal event. 

Individual Competition

There will be 64 men and 64 women from around the world competing for gold in the individual archery competitions. Archers shoot targets, measuring 122 centimeters in diameter, from a distance of 70 meters. The targets have 10 concentric scoring rings, in five colors. The 10-point center ring measures 12.2 centimeters in diameter.

To qualify, every archer shoots 72 arrows and is ranked by their score. Archers then shoot in a single-elimination bracket, and these matches determine the winners. 

In a match, each archer shoots three arrows per set. The archer who wins the set gets 2 points, and the loser gets 0. If they tie, each gets 1 point. The first archer to score 6 or more points wins the match. If the archers are tied at 5, they compete in a one-arrow shoot-off. The closest arrow to the center, as measured with a micrometer, wins. If the arrows are the same distance from the center, each archer shoots another arrow.

Team Event

Teams consist of three archers and are ranked from 1 to 12 based on the combined qualifying-round score of every team member. These rankings are used to seed a bracket.  

In a match, a team shoots three arrows, and then the opposing team shoots three arrows. Each archer in a team must shoot an arrow in each group of three arrows, but they can shoot in any order. This repeats, for a total of six arrows shot by each team per set. 

The team that scores highest in the set wins 2 set points. Teams that tie receive 1 set point each. The first team to score 5 set points wins the match. If a tie occurs after four sets (4-4), each archer from each team alternately shoots one arrow. The team shooting an arrow closest to the middle wins the match. If the closest arrows are the same distance from the middle, the second arrows are compared, and then the third.

Mixed-Team Event

The Tokyo Games will include the first-ever mixed-team competition. Each team consists of the top-ranked male and female archers from each country. Each team shoots four arrows per set, two arrows per archer. The first team to reach 5 set points wins. If the set scores tie (4-4), the teams compete in a shoot-off, with each archer shooting one arrow. The team that gets closest to the middle wins the match. If the closest arrows are the same distance from the middle, the second arrows are compared.

History-Making Moments

In recent Olympic history, there’s been one dominant force in archery – the Republic of Korea. The country’s athletes swept gold in all four events at Rio 2016. Also impressive, the country’s women’s team hasn’t lost an Olympic competition since Seoul 1988. The Korean men’s team has taken four out of the last seven gold medals. That makes a total of 23 gold medals for South Korean archers. The United States has the second-highest number gold medals, with a total of eight. 

Kim Woo-jin of South Korea holds the Olympic men’s record of 700/720. He shot the record at the 2016 Games. Park Sung-hyun shot the Olympic women’s record, 682/720, at the 2004 Games. 

Tokyo Games

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics will be held on July 23, 2021. The archery competition takes place from July 23 to 31 at Yumenoshima Park Archery Field. You can view a full schedule here.  



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