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Your Road to the Olympic Archery Team

How to Become an Olympic Archer

By Ron Dicker


The Sport's Governing Body

After archery rules kept changing during the early modern Olympic Games, officials of the sport finally decided to standardize them. Representatives from France, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, the United States, Hungary and Italy met on Sept. 4, 1931, in Lwow, Poland, to hammer out the charter for the Federation International de Tir a l'Arc (International Archery Federation). It wasn't until the 1972 Games in Munich, Germany - more than four decades later - that archery was reinstated as an Olympic sport. FITA also runs the World Championships, one of the qualifying avenues for the Olympics.

How to Qualify

The short answer: Be among the world's 128 best archers - 64 men and 64 women - the total number of spots there are for the Olympic individual and team events.

Alas, it's a little more complicated than that. Strong finishes in the World Championships and continental qualifying tournaments can enable nations to fill their maximum limits of three spots each for men and women in the Olympics. Host countries also get the full three positions each for men and women. Countries that have not garnered any places by the end of the qualifying period have one last chance to earn an Olympic berth by competing in a special tournament.

The final American roster is determined through the US Olympic Trials, a series of three selection shoots. The names are decided after the third selection shoot, featuring the top eight men and top eight women. The best of each gender move on to represent Old Glory at the Games.

You can't just show up at the trials and tell the judges that you've been practicing really hard against a bale of hay in your backyard. You need to have met the qualifying standard score at a National Archery Association event in the year leading up to the trials.


The good news is that archery is a fairly democratic sport when it comes to who has the stuff to become an Olympian. You can be older (many Olympians are in their 50s); body types are varied; and your dad didn't have to put a bow and arrow in your hand by the time you were a 4-year-old scout. You do need to be in reasonably good shape, with strong back and arm muscles. In a tournament like the Olympics, the average man will pull his bow to 50 pounds pressure more than 300 times, a women about 34 pounds with the same frequency.

Now, the not-so-good news: You'd better be willing to log a lot of practice time. It takes hours and hours of training every day for several years to reach the elite level.

And you can't do it alone; you need to be coached every step of the way. Archery is highly technical, requiring lots of muscle memory. Early bad habits are tough to break. One option is to get a private coach. A less expensive and more social avenue is to join one of the 380 USA Archery clubs. They can provide some basics such as shooting fundamentals, equipment advice and places to practice. Some people choose to do both. Outdoor or indoor ranges, or lanes, often charge fees of less than $10 a day, depending on how popular the site is. You might have to pay an annual fee, too.

No matter where you develop, keep tournaments on the back burner while you master the sport. If you've got tunnel vision fixed on the Olympics, train at 70 meters, the only Olympic distance. When you get good enough for elite tournaments, make sure you have savings for travel. And even before you're ready, you might want to attend some tournaments anyway. You'll learn a lot, and the networking will motivate you.

Finally, keep your equipment in working order. Even a master can't shoot straight with bent arrows. Tune your bow, too. It's not a Stradivarius, but you might as well treat it like one if you want to win.

The Basics

A few pointers for consistency:

  • The stance: Stand perpendicular to the target. Your feet should be straddling the shooting line and be shoulder-width apart.
  • The aim: Focus with both eyes at the center of the target.
  • The pull (draw): Pull the arrow back to the same anchor point on your cheek or mouth every time. It's a coordinated push-pull movement with bow and arrow. Push with the arm of your bow arm and pull with your drawing arm, drawing the bowstring until it touches your nose and lips.
  • The release: You've heard this before in other sports: Follow through. When you launch the arrow, keep pulling your draw hand along the base of your neck.

Return to Olympic Archery Main Page

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Ron Dicker is a New York-based freelance writer who covered sports for the New York Times from 1996 to 2005.
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