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Aug 06 2012

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Compounds at the Olympics

Check out this article I was linked to from the NY Times.

Compound Bow, a Sport’s ‘Ugly Stepchild,’ Is Still in Exile

Doug Mills/The New York Times

At the 2012 Games, archers used recurve bows at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

By

 

LONDON — More than 100 athletes competed for 12 Olympic archery medals over eight days at the majestic Lord’s Cricket Ground, but the archer who may be the most dominant in the world spent most of the time sitting at home in Idaho.

Bill Schaefer/Associated Press

Reo Wilde is the top-ranked compound archer in the world but cannot compete in the Olympics with that bow.

The archer, Reo Wilde, won the past four World Cups. He holds six world records. And at a recent competition, he twice fired 10 X’s, or shots to the innermost ring on the target, in a 15-arrow sequence. The most X’s anyone else has recorded in 15 arrows is seven.

Despite that résumé, Wilde, 39, is watching the London Games on television. Four years from now, he will most likely have to do the same thing.

The problem is Wilde’s bow. While Olympic archers used a recurve bow here — think of Robin Hood or Katniss in “The Hunger Games” — Wilde is the top-ranked compound archer in the world. Recurve bows are relatively simple devices that rely on the athlete to supply the tension while pulling back an arrow, but the compound bow is more technologically advanced, and typically levers and pulleys help reduce the tension felt as the athlete goes to shoot.

Generally, the separation of disciplines is not an issue; compound archery competitions are held alongside recurve tournaments at many major events. But the Olympics are the notable exception.

Now, with another Olympic archery cycle having just been completed, the lingering question of how to bridge the schism in the sport will be highlighted again. Archers like Wilde hold out hope of someday competing in the Olympics, but they are also aware the International Olympic Committee is slow to change.

“In a way, we’ve always been the ugly stepchild,” Wilde said in a recent interview. “It’s really funny because I think compound is growing in popularity at a rate faster than our Olympic recurve counterparts. It makes sense: an average person can grab a compound and work with it. So what’s the problem?”

He added: “What sense does it make? Other sports are embracing technology. We’re the only sport that holds our athletes back, the only sport that says: ‘No, sorry. That’s too modern.’ ”

Tom Dielen, the secretary general of archery’s world governing body, which is known as FITA, said the organization was pressing to have the International Olympic Committee include compound archery in future Games. Compound archery emerged as a truly competitive discipline in the mid-1990s, Dielen said, and the initial response from the I.O.C. was concern that it was too similar to recurve.

To counter that notion, a committee was formed to make modifications that would help enhance compound’s viability. Several changes have been made over the years, and now there are some obvious differences: for one, recurve bows are shot 70 meters from the target, while compound bows are shot from 50 meters. The structure and scoring of a match are also different, as recurve matches are based on three-arrow sets (the archer with the highest total after three arrows apiece wins that set), while in compound every arrow counts.

“Recurve is a sport of execution and not so much aiming; compound is more aiming and precision,” Dielen said. “It’s now a different type of competition.”

Dielen said it was realistic to think that compound archers would eventually be welcomed at the Olympics, though he was not confident it would happen in time for the 2016 Games. Wilde, however, is not convinced. He sometimes wonders whether officials within the sport are doing all they can to promote the second form.

“People in power in archery are old-school recurve people,” he said from his home in Pocatello. “Sometimes I feel like they think that if compound comes in, recurve will cease to exist.”

In the past, Wilde said, there was also a definite division between the types of archers. But that has changed in recent years, and there is now a genuine camaraderie, particularly at major tournaments, even though recurve archers, as potential Olympic athletes, are treated differently.

For example, Wilde has often roomed with Brady Ellison, the top-ranked recurve archer in the world, at international events. Ellison shot compound bows when he was a junior competitor but switched to recurve and won a silver medal at the Beijing Games before being eliminated early in the men’s tournament here. He and Wilde are friends.

As a recurve archer, though, Ellison is allowed to live and train at the United States Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. He is also eligible for stipends.

Wilde trains at a local indoor club or occasionally in his parents’ backyard. He spent 16 years working for U.P.S. to finance his archery and started shooting full time only in 2010, after he had so much success that sponsorships made it possible.

More than a decade ago, Wilde attempted to switch to recurve, hoping he might be able to live his Olympic dream that way. He failed to qualify, and returned to compound, where he was more comfortable. Compound is the future of the sport, he maintains; Dielen said its growth was impossible to ignore.

At one time, compound archery competition was mostly limited to the United States and parts of Europe; now, about 40 of the 150 nations affiliated with FITA have compound programs, and Dielen expects that number to increase drastically as Asia becomes more involved. Compound archery will make its Asian Games debut in 2014, Dielen said.

Are the Olympics far behind? Dee Wilde, Reo’s father, was also a world champion compound archer, and he introduced his son to the sport when Reo was 12. Twenty-seven years later, Reo Wilde and the rest of the compound archers are still on the outside looking in.

“I love the Olympics, and I always will,” Wilde said. “All I want is a chance to compete there. To have that would be the greatest thing I could imagine.”

Permanent link to this article: http://BearRiverArchers.org/compounds-at-the-olympics/

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