Archery is a sport that is among the oldest of recorded competitive activities. Cultures as diverse as the Chinese, indigenous North American peoples, and early Europeans placed value on the ability of men to skillfully use a bow and arrow. The legends of William Tell and Robin Hood centered upon the talent of each character to shoot an arrow with unerring accuracy. When archers were displaced in English armies through the development of firearms and cannon in the 1600s, archery gained popularity as a competitive sport.
Archery was introduced to the Olympics in 1900, and the sport was contested through the Games of 1920, when it was removed from the Olympic roster as a result of disputes among the competing nations regarding the appropriate rules for competition. Archery was reinstated to Olympic status at the Summer Games of 1972. Archery is also included at the Summer Paralympics as a wheelchair sport. As with the sports of the ancient Olympics that are still part of the modern games, archery is a sport that has not changed to a significant degree since medieval times.
FITA, the international archery federation, is the governing body for the sport worldwide. Modern archery is organized into men's and women's divisions, both as individual competitions and as team events. The usual international events require a competitor to deliver a prescribed number of arrows into a target from a variety of distances. For men, the distances are 30 m, 50 m, 70 m, and 90 m; for women, the maximum competitive distance is 70 m. The targets are divided into ten zones, with zone widths varying depending on the distance from which the archer shoots. The sport is very simple in its execution, as the archer with the most arrows delivered closest to the bulls' eye, the center of the target, is the winner. While physical strength and general fitness are important to an elite-level archery competitor, archery is a sport where physical size is not of primary importance.
As a machine, a bow is any stringed projectile weapon designed to shoot arrows. The modern bow used in archery competition is of the same approximate shape and dimension as the long bows first used by the English army at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 to defeat their French enemy. The modern bow is constructed from carbon fiber and other similar composite materials to create a maximum degree of response to the pull of the archer. The shooting of an arrow involves the application of a series of physical principles. The expression, "translation of energy," is important in the understanding of how the arrow is delivered with maximum effect. As the archer prepares to draw back the bowstring, the potential energy available to the arrow rests in the muscles of the archer's arm and shoulders. Once the bowstring is drawn, the potential energy is transferred from the archer to the bowstring. When the bowstring is released, virtually all of the stored potential energy in the bowstring is transferred to become the kinetic energy that powers the arrow into flight.
The flight of the arrow is a product of a number of physical factors. The velocity at which the arrow is released, the angle (calculated as the number of degrees above horizontal that the bow and arrow are aimed), the mass of the arrow, and the impact of air resistance and wind all contribute to the manner in which the arrow will travel.
Archery is a deceptive sport in terms of the approach to physical training and fitness required of the competitive archer. The general desirable physical qualities in an archer are strength, particularly in the core strength elements of the abdominal, lumbar (lower back), and groin, to provide stability to the archer as the arrows are shot. Flexibility is also an important quality, as is muscular strength in the upper body, to effectively draw back and deliver the arrows.
Aerobic fitness and a corresponding ability to control the heart rate of the athlete in the stress of competition is of critical importance to the competitive archer. Aerobic fitness assists an archer in offsetting the fatigue that results from standing for several hours through a competition, where during the delivery of the arrows the athlete must be strong and physically prepared to compete. The high level of mental focus required to concentrate during every attempt at a target (the archer may deliver over 50 arrows in a single session) is best supported by a body that is fit.
Archers employ a variety of mental conditioning techniques to prepare themselves for an event. Many of these devices include both visualization of the physical movements that the archer will complete to shoot a perfect arrow; other techniques encourage the athlete to use imagery to relax prior to the event.
As a general proposition, the lower an archer's heart rate, the steadier the aim. The rate at which the heart beats is a function of the autonomic nervous system, which controls other involuntary systems such as respiration. Most competitive archers employ one of a variety of deep breathing techniques prior to the actual delivery of an arrow to take the pulse to its lowest possible rate to create the greatest degree of stability and control over the delivery of the arrow.