Robin Hood, eat ya heart out

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:23pm

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Archery made its Olympic debut in 1900, but was dropped after the 1908 London Games. It came back in 1972 in Munich.

Archery might not be the most exciting spectator sport, but, thanks to author Suzanne Collins, and her blockbuster Hunger Games trilogy, it is definitely the most fashionable of all the Olympic games.

How hard can it be, I thought. All you have to do is make sure the pointy end of the arrow flies away from you, preferably not hitting any living creature. Hitting a target would be a bonus.

The slight problem was that Typhoon Vicente was busy hitting Hong Kong on the day I was meant to be imitating Katniss Everdeen. It seemed that before I had even started, the odds were not going to be ever in my favour.

Luckily, La Salle has an indoor range. So it was on.

La Salle's team captains Johnson Chan Jor-shing and Kenneth Yip Ching-wa were on hand to train me. There are bows, and then there are bows and then there's this professional competition bow (above) that was so heavy I could barely lift it for more than a few seconds. All that extra shiny stuff is to ease the recoil and help the archer shoot better for longer. Honestly, though, I think the recoil would be the least of my problems if I had to use this. I wonder if anyone thought of having a bow caddy on an archery range.

Luckily, the bow I was to use was not as heavy: I was given a stripped-down version without the bling. But then there was the small matter of which eye I was going to use. I had kind of hoped to use both of them. But that was not to be the case. I had to use my dominant eye, the captains explained. Now, if anyone were to ask me which is my dominant side, I would say without hesitation that it is my right; after all, it's the hand I write with. But as it turned out after a little test, my left eye is the dominant one. So all that mental rehearsal weeks in advance, practising my stance at YP HQ, was for nought because I had to do things back to front.

The arm I had imagined holding the bow was now pulling the string and vice versa. That was all OK - I even got a nifty little strip of leather to put on my fingers to protect them from being cut by the bow string, and a plastic arm guard to protect my bow hand from being stung by the string. (As it happened, I needed an entire bow sleeve and possibly a full armour suit because more of me was stung than I ever thought possible.)

Although I had never shot a bow at anything in particular before, I had done some reading up on the issue, nerd that I am. I am particularly interested in warfare from horseback, and so I did know a fair bit about the theory of what I was supposed to be doing. Except of course I had no horse, a different bow, my target was not a yelling enemy and there was no battle. Completely different, then.

First, I received a lesson in safety. There were whistles to tell me when I could shoot, when I could go hunt for the arrows I shot, and when there was an emergency.

It wasn't long before I was letting fly and satisfyingly managed to actually get a few arrows on the board. To be honest, I was so close I shouldn't have missed, but I managed to do so with embarrassing regularity. I'm glad my life doesn't depend on hunting dinner with bow and arrow. I reckon I'd end up being pretty skinny. Despite looking really easy, there is a lot to think about archery. The arrow has a rest on the bow that it sits on before it is loosed - quite often I forgot that. It should be nocked between two little bumps on the bowstring, not wherever I felt like. Was I going to go elbow up or level? I kept on forgetting that my hand should be under my chin. And there's that pesky line that you have to step over before you start shooting. Oh yes, and I had to wait for that whistle that told me it was clear to shoot.

In archery, you hope to hit the gold centre of the target. I was there for a good few hours and I managed to get one arrow on the gold. One.

Although my hosts were extremely encouraging and polite, I have to admit that I hit that gold purely by the law of averages, i.e. if you shoot enough arrows at a target, eventually you're likely to hit gold. Still, it was a great feeling of satisfaction and I am really keen to continue.

How to find your dominant eye

Look around for a likely target, like a light switch.

Overlap your hands on top of each other, leaving a centre hole to look through.

Extend your arms and put the light switch at the centre of the hole.

Close one eye. If you can still see the light switch, that is your dominant eye.

Switch eyes. If you can't see the light switch the other eye is your dominant eye.

History

Man, as a hunter, found ways to hunt more efficiently. He also found ways to kill his enemies more efficiently. One of the ways to do this is by bow and arrow. It seems archery started in Europe around the time of the stone age. But it is found almost everywhere in the world, from the Bushmen of the Kalahari to the tribesmen in the Amazon, from the Steppes of Asia to the green fields of Europe.

Until the firearm was invented and adopted, the archer was a vital part of a nation's military. While archery is still used in everyday life in some remote corners of the world, in modern countries there are people who still prefer to hunt with a bow and others who like to shoot at targets.

The basics

There are individual and team men's and women's events. The objective is to land as many arrows as possible in the gold section of the target, which is placed 70 metres away. At the Olympics, the target is 122cm in diameter.

The target has 10 rings. The smallest ring, in the middle, is worth 10points, and the largest is worth only one point. The winner is the archer who scores the most number of points.

The top eight shooters from the preliminaries go to the final rounds.

Archers loose arrows in batches, called 'ends'. In the individual final, two archers go head to head as they loose five ends of three arrows. They have a 40-second time limit per arrow.

Teams, formed of three archers, shoot four ends of six arrows, with each archer shooting six in a match. Teams alternate after every three arrows; each team has two minutes to shoot all six arrows.

Bluffer's guide

Arm guard: worn on the bow hand to prevent it being stung by the string

Arrowhead: the tip of the arrow

Arrow rest: holds the arrow against the bow until it's released

Compound bow: the ultra-modern bow that has a system of pulleys

Drawing: pulling the string back before loosing the arrow

Loose: shoot the arrow

Nock: the little notch at the back end of the arrow where the bowstring rests; and also the act of fitting an arrow to the bow

Nocking point: the place on the string where the arrow is nocked

Quiver: a case for carrying arrows

Shaft: the part of the arrow that's like a stick

Tab: the leather that protects fingers from bowstring

Names to make you quiver

Im Dong-hyun

The big buzz this year around Olympic archery was that, for a long time, a blind man was in the lead. South Korea's Im Dong-hyun, 26, is legally blind in his left eye (20-200 vision in his left eye and 20-100 in his right eye). In the qualifying rounds, Im broke his own 72-arrow world record score of 696, by scoring 699. Alongside his teammates Kim Bubmin and Oh Jin-hyek - the individual gold medallist - he helped score a new world record of 2,087 for 216 arrows.

As part of the gold-winning team at Athens, he became the youngest male champion in the history of Olympic archery. He was also in the winning team in Beijing. But at the London Games, South Korea took team bronze.

Oh Jin-hyek

The 30-year-old was competing in London at his first Olympics - but there never seemed to be any doubt that he would win the individual gold. South Korea is historically one of the strongest teams in the sport. In the final round against Japan's Takaharu Furukawa, Oh scored seven 10-point shots, compared to his opponent's three, leading to a comfortable 7-1 victory.

Italian team

In a final that kept spectators at Lord's cricket ground on the edge of their seats, the Italian trio of Michele Frangilli, Marco Galiazzo and Mauro Nespoli cranked up a four-point lead. But as the teams started in their last end, the US halved that difference. With one arrow to go, the US led by nine points, with a score of 219. With the weight of his nation's hopes on his shoulders, Nespoli hit a 10 and the Italians seized gold, their first ever in the sport.

Hit bull's-eyes in HK

Hong Kong Archery Centre

Address: 902, 20 Hillwood Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

Telephone: 2739 8969

www.hk-archerycentre.com

Hong Kong Island Archery Club

Practice range: Kei Lung Wan Service Reservoir, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong

Telephone: 9801 0830

www.archery.com.hk

Tuen Mun Recreation and Sports Centre (Archery Range)

Address: Lung Mun Road, Tuen Mun, New Territories

Telephone: 2466 2600

www.lcsd.gov.hk/tmrsc

Special thanks to La Salle College