Why aren’t compound bows allowed in the Olympic Games? That’s probably one of the most controversial topics in competitive target archery. As archers watch the winter Olympics at Sochi, they’re reminded that shooters in the biathlon could easily be archers on skis.
And we’re betting at least some of the 2,200 archers who competed at the Vegas Shoot would like to shoot compound archery as an indoor Winter Olympic event. After all, compound archery is allowed in the World Cups, the World Championships and, just recently, the World Games. Continental games, such as the 2014 Asian Games, have followed suit.
Tom Dielen, Secretary General of World Archery, the sport’s governing body, told the New York Times that the International Olympic Committee believed – at least initially – that recurve and compound competitions were too similar.
It’s true that compound bows are arguably more consistent and lend themselves to longer, steadier aiming. World Archery has worked to separate the compound and recurve games, changing distances, target faces and the mechanics of how archers compete.
“Recurve is a sport of execution and not so much aiming,” Dielen told the Times. “Compound is more aiming and precision. It’s now a different type of competition.”
Then again, anyone watching compound archers at the Paralympic Games or the World Championships knows that compound archery, at the highest levels, is a game of excruciating precision. Why? Because everyone – well, almost everyone – hits the middle of the target.
The numbers: Recurve archers must try to hit the target’s center from about 75 yards. In contrast, compound archers must never miss their target’s center from about 55 yards, even though their target is 30 percent smaller and has six scoring rings instead of 10.
The sport has several notable archers who switched from compound to recurve or vice versa. Five-time Olympian Butch Johnson switched from compound to recurve and back again before permanently embracing the ’curve for the Atlanta Olympic Games, where he won a team gold. He currently shoots a compound for bowhunting and a recurve for competition, but hasn’t ruled out competing again with a compound.
Brady Ellison, an Olympic silver medalist, was a compound rock star in the junior divisions. In fact, he was a World Champion before changing to recurve during a camp. The story goes that Ellison suffered an equipment failure with his compound, and a friend loaned him a recurve. He was a natural with the new equipment, and made his first Olympic team three years later. Archery fans speculate that his compound background taught him important form factors that benefited his recurve shooting.
Reo Wilde, a world-class compound archer, also changed bows. He started with a compound, but switched to recurve in hopes of representing Team USA at the Games. Wilde ultimately chose the compound again, and now shoots full time. He has six world records to his name.
However, the “Olympian” title holds special appeal for Wilde, a multi-time World Champion: “I love the Olympics, and I always will,” Wilde told the New York Times. “All I want is a chance to compete there. To have that would be the greatest thing I could imagine.”