Archery in Seoul: pt 1

26 May, 2015

Modern laminate gukgong. ©

After my adventures in Shanghai, I made my way to Seoul, a city I had been itching to visit for some time. I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a lot to say about this extraordinary place, so I’m going to split this up into two parts.

Thanks to some internet contacts, I got to meet Andrew White. Andrew is a professor of English at one of Seoul’s universities and a serious archer. He was kind enough to spend some time giving me an introduction to Korean traditional archery, or gungdo, at the Surakjeong (수락정) range out in the north-east of this enormous city.

SuRakJeong range. ©

South Korea is one of the most mountainous democracies on Earth – over 70% of the country is classed as uplands or mountains. The capital Seoul is hemmed in on all sides by towering rocks that have served to shape the city’s temporal and spiritual history. All Seoul’s traditional archery ranges are elevated, perched on the slopes of the surrounding peaks, and most of them are anything but flat fields. To varyingly rugged degrees they are tied much more firmly to the natural world than Western ranges, and Surakjeong – the ‘Surak’ part refers to the local Suraksan mountain, ‘Jeong’ meaning ‘range’ – is no exception. The range is rural, wild, green and peaceful, with a channelled mountain stream burbling diagonally across the field. I am mildly startled by a four foot snake making his leisurely way back to the undergrowth, although I manage to take a photograph. I mention it and show the photo to club members, and apparently he is a familiar sight out here. This is, of course, his territory as well as ours.


Many gungdo clubhouses, or jung gahn, are built in a traditional style, featuring curved, extended wooden eaves which exactly resemble the architecture of the five great palaces of Seoul, right down to the identical colour scheme, which is said to symbolise a tree. There couldn’t be a more direct expression of the sport’s direct links to royal, dynastic and military tradition. Archers are expected to bow to the clubhouse when entering and leaving the range.

The jung gahn here holds a familiar trove of trophies and memorabilia, dusty history and old equipment. There is another open shed for bow storage and maintenance, with a few modern low-poundage recurve bows too which are sometimes used with local schools. It is not well known that FITA fields are actually very rare in Korea, despite the high-profile Olympic success. Recurve and compound target archery simply doesn’t exist as a mass-participation sport with nationwide clubs like in Europe and the Americas – although a handful of ranges accommodate both traditional and target styles.

There is also a bell with a fish clapper to mark shooting, the fish being an object of deep Buddhist significance.



The distance of these ranges is always 145 metres, a distance similar to that used in a Joseon Dynasty-era military exam. On these terrains the target bed is frequently elevated or lowered from the shooting line, here it is a few feet higher. Gungdo targets are approximately 2 metres by 2.5 metres, with a rubberised surface that the arrow is designed to bounce off rather than penetrate – the targets feature an electronic indicator connected to a light to indicate a hit. The long walks to collect arrows sometimes involve negotiation between club members based on seniority.


There’s also no such thing as an indoor season to speak of – shooting continues year-round outdoors. In Korea’s harsh winters the line here is greenhoused and heated, and Andrew says there’s nothing quite like getting the first hit of the morning after a snowy night and seeing a grand white sheet of snow slump off the target in one go.

Traditional gakgung bow. © Traditional gakgung bow. © DSC_0123

The only bowstyle shot here is the traditional Korean bow, a reflexed composite weapon without an arrow shelf.  Beginners and casual archers use modern laminated bows and carbon / aluminium arrows familiar to Westerners, but as one moves up the levels past the fourth dan, archers must use traditional water-buffalo horn bows known as gakgung and bamboo arrows to progress further. These exquisite objects, which take years to make, are kept in a specially temperature-controlled cupboard buried into the mountainside, the natural materials requiring a great deal of care to maintain.


The bamboo arrows are also difficult to construct, requiring the sourcing of bamboo with identical length stalks as well as thickness, in order to spine correctly. Traditional arrows are fitted with pheasant feathers and numbered in various decorative ways, and all arrows are crimped with blunt bronze points.


Out on the mountain soil, long-standing members of the club are given small plots on the expanse of the range as an allotment. Andrew is raising peppers and hops for homebrew on his, next to a crop of what looks like kale. A session of archery interrupted by a spot of gardening is not at all an unusual afternoon out here – and naturally, old arrows get used to mark things out.  The plots are mostly out of the line of fire to the targets. Mostly. Given the relatively high trajectories of Korean archery, apparently other ranges around the country even feature roads running between the line and the targets. Every type of land is employed, there are ranges shooting over ponds, rice paddies, tree groves, and even ocean inlets.


Andrew White.

Each end consists of five arrows – no more, no less – and the arrows are tucked inside a sash worn round the body: quivers are not normally used. The colour and markings of the belt indicate the dan level the archer has achieved – the first key stage is achieving a perfect end of five out of five, known as a mohlgi. There are grading competitions a few times a year, and a program of local and national competitions.

Members at Surakjeong have access 24/7, and there is a complicated hierarchical system in a country known for complicated hierarchical systems; archers are deferred to variously by age, dan ranking, and length of membership. Out back there is a long narrow building that serves as kitchen and mess hall, also housing the club’s leaderboard, clearly indicating the dan and other ranks of the members, and the order they were achieved in. Once you make a certain dan, you retain it for life.


Communal cooking and eating is normal, and I am kindly treated to a meal of noodles, kimchi and dureup jeon – woody shoots foraged from the local mountains by a club member and fried in batter – along with makgeolli, the milky-coloured, mildly alcoholic, utterly Korean rice beverage.


Dureup namu (두릅나무) in its raw state.


Dureup jeon (두릅전).

I was amazed by the standard of the permanent facilities, but rather more struck by the similarities, rather than the differences, between gungdo and outdoor target archery, especially as practiced in the UK. The relaxed air of a shooting afternoon, the birds louder than an arrow being released, the reciprocal arrangements (any member can usually shoot at any other range as a guest) and the social structure were very familiar. The demographics of archery club members in Korea is not entirely dissimilar to that of golf clubs – indeed, golf is apparently pretty popular among Korean archers. The different clubs around Seoul and the rest of the country differ variously in attitude, formality, snootiness, average level of ability, coaching, and the degree of drinking and socialising that goes on – again, something that will be very familiar to UK archers. ;-)

SuRakJeong range. ©

Coached by Andrew, I am given a chance to shoot with a trainer bow, first on a set of practice targets out back, and then from about the halfway line of the range. A discussion of technique could fill a book; being used to recurve shooting with a tab, the thumb ring and Mongolian grip are the trickiest things to get used to, as well as the low anchor point. Still, from about 70m out, after ten or so arrows have hit the floor, I am pleased to hear a distance knocking sound and see the centre target light flash. The breeze ripples through the trees. I’m on my way.


Enormous, heartfelt thanks to Andrew White for enabling this piece and taking the time. 

You can read much more about Korean traditional archery in English at Martin Sadlon’s site (RIP) as well as the one maintained by Thomas Duvernay

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Archery in Seoul over the next couple of days.

God Is My Hero: Shanghai World Cup 2015

15 May, 2015

In May 2015 I went to the first stage of the 2015 Archery World Cup to work for World Archery, reporting for the website and interviewing athletes. This is a personal account of what I got up to. You can watch the finals, read the news pieces I had a hand in, and check the results here: 

I already put a lot of the better photos up here, and there’s more on the Facebook page.
All photos are © The Infinite Curve. Contact me if you want to use them. 

Shanghai Airport Terminal 2, shaped like a bow.

Shanghai Airport Terminal 2, shaped like a bow.


Shanghai goes on and on and on. Long before you reach the actual city itself, you fly in over a flat, repetitive landscape which is entirely man made. Smallholdings, vast canals carving up tracts of land, and factories. This is the manufacturing belt. Most of the world’s consumer goods are produced within fifty miles of Shanghai. Just with what I have in my bag on the plane, it looks like I’m taking my headphones back to see their ancestral home, and my camera lens. And my MacBook. And my iPhone. Probably the chargers, possibly the pens, probably the bag fabric if not the bag. Probably at least half of my archery kit. It’s all made here.

Pudong District, Shanghai

Pudong District, Shanghai

I am driven in from Pudong airport with most of the Brazilian recurve team, an hour on the road through an immense grey sprawl. Our hotel, one of two housing the archery circus, is a 90s curiosity with a gaudy lobby maintaining a grandiose, marbled air of communist-era theatrics. The main tower goes up 42 stories, and in my room on the 39th there is a Blade Runner-esque view of the Pudong district at night. To the north is a vertical jumble that stretches to the horizon, and everywhere, everywhere they are still building, for countless miles in every direction. It makes the London development boom look like a man considering a new shed in B&Q. 

The archery world cup has seen a permanent edition here in Shanghai since 2009 and will be here for at least another five years; it is now a defining part of the series. The story starts again tomorrow.



Oliver Haidn, Germany’s head recurve coach.

Official practice day. Glorious sunshine. The athletes and staff are ferried from the hotels a couple of miles to the Yuanshen football stadium in a fleet of coaches, buses, minivans and taxis. Driving in central Shanghai is a furious, honking jungle where only drivers who sharpen their wits survive. It’s like driving in Rome with even more smoking. Luckily our driver has the sixth sense necessary to make a left-hand turn across six lanes of traffic with mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians flying in all directions. 

Once inside, there is an entire World Archery staff and ten judges to fit out with brand new uniforms courtesy of sponsor FILA, and the media room resembles a branch of Sports Direct shortly before Saturday closing. Next door is the technical and scoring room, maintained by Matteo Pisani and his mostly Italian team. They have coffee in there. We also need to re-photograph every athlete and coach on the field for accreditation. There’s a lot of work to do. 

Once in in my spiffy new uniform, my job here is to report for the World Archery website, and specifically, interviewing athletes. I work under Chris Wells, the head of communication; for the first few days, we split the work – I mostly do recurve and he mostly does compound. The days are long, and it never really stops. You end up dreaming about it. 


Bernado Oliveira.

I am also taking a lot more photographs these days on my own account. Shortly before leaving I invested in a second-hand Tamron 70-300mm telephoto zoom, which is giving me better results than I expected. When there is nothing dramatic happening, getting out on the field and taking photos is a way of shaking things up – not only can dicking around with a camera be a good way of ingratiating yourself with people, it can be a generative act in itself. If you can find something interesting in the frame, it might be interesting as part of the narrative of the event too.


However, I realised a long time ago that there is no point in trying to replicate what Dean Alberga is doing; I don’t have the talent, the equipment or the extensive personal access that he has built up over the years. More to the point, I don’t have the remit – that’s his job. So I try to look for other things, shapes and lines, odd moments, and often things not at full draw. My photography is improving, although I am still amazed at Dean’s reaction time and his ability to deliver such amazing work so fast. It is by standing on the shoulders of giants that I manage to get one of my pictures used by the Korean Archery Association, and another, later in the week, by ArcheryGB


Zahra Nemati

I am working through a jet-lagged fog for the first couple of days, and it’s difficult to concentrate. (I’m not the only one – I see archers asleep all over the field for the first couple of days). A decent night’s sleep proves elusive all week, and we all make frequent runs for energy sustaining treats. I have never worked on any team with a sweeter tooth, and the parade of hot chocolates, cream buns, ice creams, cheese cake and sugary Chinese delights that appear over the course of the tournament would make a diabetic hyperventilate. And who would have guessed that one of the Colombian compound team was a fully-qualified dentist?


The ranking round itself. The shakedown. It’s a bit like going through the education system – it’s not necessarily going to dictate your fate in life, but it’s really likely to. 

The Korean women are here. The rock stars.  These people are gods. Everyone wants a photo with them; volunteers, staff, judges, coaches, other athletes, security guards. I manage to restrain myself. This time. 


Kang “The Destroyer” Chae Young and Choi Misun.

Today, lucky me, I get to talk to a astonishing list of athletes. I get to talk to men called Brady, Crispin, Taylor and Reo and women called Maja, Deepika, Aida and Bo Bae. I talk to Asian Games champion Esmaili Ebadi. I talk to Brazilian wunderkind Marcus D’Almeida, who has been feeling the pressure. I talk to the extraordinary Zahra Nemati. I talk to several of Team GB, who are not having the best meet. We talk to the interesting squad from Bhutan at their first world cup. 


The stadium gets floodlit after 5pm, lending proceedings an unreal air. A lot of hopes are dashed. All that work, and what to show for it? There’s a lot of frustration in this world. Over the course of the week I get to hear a mountain of bitching, several official “no comments” on the subject of coaches, well-known athletes describing other well-known athletes as “f**king shit” and “that greedy f**king bitch”, and a great deal of incredibly salacious and occasionally entirely scandalous gossip about everyone and everything in elite archery. I would love to be able to share it all with you, dear reader, but I can’t. I’ve been in bands long enough to know that what happens on tour, stays on tour. Them’s the rules. Although you could sum quite a lot of it up as: not all the scoring takes place on the field.



Individual qualification. The top 8 in each discipline are byed through two rounds. In recurve, this includes seven of the eight Koreans, and the first couple of rounds, from some angles, look like a sideshow until the doors of the shark cage swing open.

Today I get to interview former Chinese national archer Zhang Juan Juan with the help of our local fixer Alex. She won individual Olympic gold at Beijing 2008, beating three Koreans back-to-back on the way. She’s good fun, clearly experienced at fielding media questions, and has the relaxed air of a sports champion who will never have to buy a drink again. 

As the competition closes up, with recurve and compound on the field at the same time, it’s hard to keep track of what is going on and Dean, Chris and myself run around furiously trying to keep up. With the big screen only cycling information every couple of minutes, you rely on other things. I mean, you can tell by the way Aida Roman walks off the field whether she’s won her match or not. As it becomes clear that there is barely a crack in the Korean recurve machine, interest and athletes drift away. I watch the carnage continue and chat to the sharp and fascinating Bernado Oliveira of the Brazilian team, who has had a great run today. 

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Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world, phone pic out of the taxi window.

Work wise, we are having trouble with the creaking Chinese internet, which falls over every few minutes like a clattered-into-bowstand. The scores aren’t updating fast enough. We need access to the databases to get anything down, and most of us have to use a VPN to leap The Great Firewall Of China, which adds an extra layer of tedium. Matteo and the rest of his team are late every night fixing technical niggles, swearing in Italian. The Iranian squad bring us a gift of a huge sack of roasted pistachio nuts seasoned with ras-el-hanout, the shells of which soon cover every inch of the media room. Most nights we miss our hotel dinner working. There’s not enough coffee. It’s a hard life. It’s not, really. I wouldn’t have missed today for the world. 


Team rounds. Compared to the previous days, they don’t take long. It’s the last stage of competition before the finals, so unless you’ve made those, that’s it for the week. Those last two points. That one arrow that just hates you. Most teams at these events are booked on unchangeable flights, and have to sit around for two to four days before heading home to jobs and families. Options are pretty limited: train, sightsee cheaply, support teammates who have made the weekend finals, and always: wonder what might have been. 


After the weekend’s shooting has been decided the production team heads for the finals field on the picturesque waterfront. We are all crammed into two tents by the immensely busy Huangpu river, the busiest river by traffic in the world, across the way from the Bund. Not a minute goes by without a low-in-the-water freighter carrying aggregates or a ridiculous gaudy sightseeing boat going past, and the foghorn blasts reverberate for five whole seconds back and forth across the water. The Shanghai bells punctuate things frequently. We run through a technical rehearsal in torrential rain, with some unlucky lads from the Singapore team having to stand out there and shoot in the pissing gloom. 

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For some reason the Korean coach has agreed to my request to interview the women’s team. I have hurriedly got a long list of questions translated into Korean on paper (thank you Jessica!), the list is a mix of philosophical and slightly more personal; we have been trying to ‘open up’ a few teams to add more depth and colour to the coverage. “Is perfectionism a positive aspect or a negative aspect?” and “When you are away at a tournament, what do you take to remind yourself of home?”.  Not many archers are used to this kind of thing.

In the evening, I wait nervously in the lobby. At the appointed time Ki Bo Bae, Chang Hye Jin, Kang “The Destroyer” Chae Young, Choi Misun and Mr. Kim, one of the six Korean coaches out here, all troop down to the hotel bar, all dressed in black, eyeing me slightly suspiciously. I sit there with four of the greatest target archers in the world, and turn my recorder on. It turns out they have all read the list of questions I helpfully provided in advance and are fighting amongst themselves to answer them. Ki Bo Bae elbows me in the ribs when I ask her “What do you like to spend money on?” There is a lot of laughing and it ends up going pretty well, with a stark moment from Chang Hye Jin, who answers my question about heroes like this: “Hero? What kind of hero? Like, my own hero? God. God is my hero.”

I just got elbowed in the ribs by Ki Bo Bae. I JUST GOT ELBOWED IN THE RIBS BY KI BO BAE.



Lexi Keller

Compound finals day, aka ‘Compound Saturday’. We open for business at 11am. It’s hot. The sort of muggy weather that makes nylon stick to skin. I am sat next to the local Chinese crew member responsible for the video screens, who spends most of the next two days asleep with his head on the desk. Still, I have an excellent view of the line and don’t even have to stand up to take a decent photograph of right-handers. The Swiss TV production team, who communicate in French, take up most of the room, although English is the lingua franca of everybody working. Everyone has a vital job to do. There are no spare cogs in this machine. 


Maja Marcen

Last time I was doing this gig in Antalya I managed to walk in front of a TV camera whilst trying to get some dumb photo for Twitter and deservedly incurred the terrifying wrath of Marion, one of the TV producers. I decide to make sure there is absolutely no chance of doing this again and avoid the field of play entirely, so going back and forth to the production tent involves a long walk round the main stand and then chasing athletes up and down a long stretch of waterfront. There’s a lot of walking-and-talking. I must have covered about five miles a day. Also, I start interviewing athletes on camera for the Hit The Roof team, instead of just getting audio. The Korean and Japanese men are better friends than I imagined. Lee Seungyun speaks English, but doesn’t like to *ahem* talk about it. This is all very strange. 

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Of many highlights today,  I get to speak to Dominique Genet, veteran French compound archer. A man with a face that looks as if it was carved out of granite.  A man who ends up taking home a 16th world cup medal. A man who answers all my questions with an entirely Gallic, utterly disinterested shrug. He’s awesome. 


Dominique Genet.


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Recurve Sunday brings with it a ratcheting up of everything we already had on compound Saturday: more people, noise, media, volunteers, VIPs, gladhandling, sunshine, and things to do. The crowd is such that the seats are filled an hour before kickoff and people are thoroughly annoyed at being locked out. 


Ki Bo Bae sizing up the empty finals field.

As the Korean National Championships unfold, we are relying on a mix of the ever cheerful Mr. Kim and remote audio translation (thank you Jessica!) to get as much as we can out of the squad. We can barely get the Korean athletes to the media zone in time for an interview before they have to get them back on for another match – or a medal. The mens team get clipped by Japan in windy conditions, giving us our morning story. Ki Bo Bae is a big star here; her name, announced twice, gets the biggest roar of the day. The sole Chinese team to make it to the weekend, contesting the less-glamorous mixed team bronze match, unfortunately fail to medal and have to face a angry-looking local media scrum. 

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Unfortunately, the display of Korean dominance doesn’t make for great theatre. By the time it gets to the women’s individual final, you can sense that the energy has gone out of the crowd a little. Teammate battles are never that exciting, but the day has several other great matches to recommend it. It’s a privilege to watch this close. 

There’s a bit in the rather corpulent Korean national anthem that sounds like the last verse of Once In Royal David’s City including the descant. I have now heard it enough times to be able to hum along. As the last medal and Longines watches are handed out, the media wing of the tent begins a race against time to file the stories, photos and video before the entire production is entirely torn down around our ears. 

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Night falls. People leave for flights. The flightcases are filled, we leave the waterfront shortly after nightfall, and go for pizza and rather more than one cocktail. The gaudy boats are passing back and forth, and the skyscrapers are glowing bright. Trade is good. Shanghai will survive without us for another year. 


There were many people I’d like to thank for this opportunity and making me feel so welcome, but especially:

Chris Wells

Dean Alberga

Matteo Pisani

Chris Marsh

Tom & Nathalie Dielen 

Aimee Barnabe

Fernando Suarez

Thomas Aubert

and Cécile Dagbert

Shanghai – Days 2 / 3 (pics)

7 May, 2015

Was tired of Facebook compressing all the photos, so am putting the new ones and some already seen up on here instead. Full write-up to follow when I get the time. John x

Chang Hye-Jin. ©

Chang Hye-Jin. ©



Marcus Vinicius D’Almeida. ©

Alejandra Valencia. ©

Alejandra Valencia. ©

No DMZ here. ©


Dragonfly (Chinese). ©


Japan. ©

Karina Winter. ©


Choi Misun. ©


Shiva Khoramshahi. ©



Steven Weiss ©

Steven Weiss ©


Ariel Gibalaro. ©


Jake Kaminski ©


Ki Bo Bae ©

Full set of TeamGB pics here.


New Beginnings

30 April, 2015

Photo 30-04-2015 10 26 03

So… I’m off on a big old trip. Will be working for World Archery at the Shanghai World Cup as part of the communications team. Will be updating this blog and the Facebook page where and when I can, but most of my time will be spent working on the WA news pages. After that I’m going to Korea, with just *possibly* some archery-related stuff to do when I’m there… :-) Yes, I am excited!

UPDATES:  I have updated the blog design with a lot of help from Dave at I Can Make You Website. If you need something building, he’s good. I went for something a bit cleaner and simpler, a bit more ‘Swiss‘. You’ll also note the awesome coloured tag buttons, and if you scroll to the bottom, try hovering over the ‘Older Posts’ and see what happens.

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LOGO. Unfortunately I’ve had to retire the Rama logo, which by the way is from a fantastic book called Ramayana: Divine Loophole, which I highly recommend. One day I hope I can get the author Sanjay Patel to make me my own Rama image. Until then, right now I’m going with something very different, this more abstract, clean logo designed by Dave out of a Worcester face, which can be interpreted in a few ways. Hope you like it.

MUSIC. I’ve also added some music via Spotify. You can follow me here.  I’ve seen a few ‘archery music playlists’ around, and while all opinions of popular music are horses-for-courses, they really weren’t for me. I’ve got two playlists up at the moment. The first, ‘Outdoors’, is a collection of acoustic, folk, roots, and Americana. I was trying to grab a little of the ‘magic hour’ feeling of shooting outdoors just as the sun is coming down. Sunshine & breeze. People and the outdoors. Something like that anyway. That playlist is up on the little player below.

The second playlist is a collection of more abstract, drone, ambient and contemporary classical music, much of which I have actually listened to when shooting blank boss at home – especially trying to find something non-distracting which calms the brain but keeps you alert. So both indoors, and ‘inside’. You can find that one here. Lots of interesting stuff to discover. Email me if you want more. (PS: I don’t recommend you wear headphones on the range).

I might add some more music, or more playlists. I might rotate them. I might not. Mwuh-ha-ha-ha. Anyway, as always… enjoy. John. x

bad archery: spring special

22 April, 2015

So I step out of my office here at Infinite Curve Towers and see this ad on a black cab on the street:

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I mean, who signed that off, with the wrist looking like that? Not just bad archery… bad artwork. Sadly it seems to be a flipped version of another of their ads, spotted and criticized for different reasons by fellow WordPress blogger Sam Elfler:


That explains the wrist business, but not the grip, “hook”, strange, MC Escher angling of the string / limbs / bow arm, anchor, arrow on the wrong side of the bow… Or the fact the targets are, erm, behind her (unless that’s supposed to be the point). Although the vintagey clothing seems to be influenced by someone Googling the all-time awesome 1940s Greyhound ad.

Anyway, M&G Investments have form in this department – they seem to love the female archer image and recently used this monstrosity in another piece of online marketing. Yeurgh…


STANDARD BAD ARCHERY RANT: Look, I know. No-one cares. BUT: this is the thing, I believe people tend to recognise authenticity when it is put in front of them. When something technical is presented you can always tell when you are seeing an expert doing something rather than just a model, and with archery-based ads that little gleam of reality is only going to enhance the image of rugged individualism / ‘aiming high’ / ‘hitting the target’ etc. that they are trying to project with the product. Right? RANT OVER.

When will compound archery become an Olympic sport?

21 April, 2015

Matt Stutzman at the Paralympics: London 2012

Matt Stutzman at the Paralympics: London 2012

With just under 500 days until Rio, today a reblogged post from last month by USA Archery about if, how and when compound archery would be introduced to the Olympic Games (it has been a part of the Paralympics since 2008, of course).

There is already a plan submitted to include a recurve mixed team event at Tokyo 2020, which is a much easier sell to the IOC as it would not increase the number of athletes. Keeping the number of athletes for the Summer Games down to 10,500 is a key tenet of the Agenda 2020 proposals which are designed to reduce the cost and complexity of hosting the Games.

There are logistics issues too: the four medal archery programme at the moment with 128 athletes already monopolises a large venue for a week, so in order to have a compound competition either the programme would have to be significantly extended, the venue redesigned (presumably to four lanes) or the total number of athletes kept at the same or similar number, which would significantly change the recurve competition.

It seems very unlikely to be introduced at Toyko 2020, so if it does happen, the 2024 Games will be the earliest we see the bowstyle appearing. I suspect a lot depends on the continuing popularity of the Olympic competition in Brasil and Japan for a worldwide TV audience. Here’s hoping.

What if compound archery was an Olympic event? 

The benefits to archery are clear: There would be increased exposure for the sport, and the opportunity for more Olympic archery medals.

After all, archery is archery – no matter what bow we shoot.

But is it even possible for compound archery to become an Olympic event, and if so, what would it take to make that happen? For the first in a series of articles on this very hot topic, we talked with Tom Dielen, the Secretary General of World Archery.

“Worldwide, is it possible to estimate the percentage of compound archers versus recurve archers? “

It’s incredibly difficult to count the number of archers worldwide, independent of the bow they shoot: There are all those who shoot casually at a club or aren’t members of a federation, or visit centers or shops.

What we can easily count is the number of elite athletes competing at World Archery events and compare how many of these are compound and how many are recurve.

Over the 2014 season of World Championships (indoor and field) and Archery World Cup stages, we had 909 recurve entries and 653 compound. That’s about a 60:40 split.

In some of our larger member associations (national archery governing bodies), you would find more of a 70:30 split based on participation at national competitions.

We know that the number of casual compound archers is large, especially in North America, but we’re aiming to convert these people into competitors in the sport.

“Why hasn’t compound archery already been a part of the Olympic Games? “

Compound archery was first included in the World Archery Championships in 1995 – after an introduction in field and indoor disciplines earlier on.

It was only three years before that when World Archery introduced the head-to-head system to recurve archery, a competition format that greatly increased the event’s value to the Olympic Program.

A first request to include compound into the Olympics was made by Jim Easton in the late 1990s. However, the feedback received at that time was that it was impossible to add athletes, the disciplines were too similar, and that compound lacked universality (appeal and involvement from many different types of countries). What’s more, at that time, the position of archery was not as strong as it is now.

Getting a sport or discipline added to the Olympic Program has not been a quick process. Sports were voted in and out only at meetings held every four years – and there was little turnover.

However, the situation changed slightly last December, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted the Agenda 2020 recommendations that shifted the Olympic Program from sports-based to event-based.

“What is World Archery’s position on having compound archery added to the Olympic Games? “

World Archery would like to have more archery events and more medals at the Olympic Games. The first goal is to add the mixed team to the recurve event, as this is quota neutral – meaning it does not increase the number of athletes.

It would be fantastic for the sport and its exposure internationally and in individual countries to include compound athletes in the Olympic Games.

There is the example of India at the Asian Games, where compound was introduced for the first time in 2014. The nation made the top 10 rankings thanks to four compound medals in archery. Nowhere does it say whether these were compound or recurve medals; they count just the same, and as archery.

Having said that, compound archery is already in the World Games – a multisport event that has been growing at an exceptional rate. The next edition is scheduled for Wroclaw in 2017, and then the World Games will head to Birmingham, Alabama in the USA for 2021.

At Cali [Colombia] 2013, there were huge, full spectator stands for the compound event. Birmingham 2021 is a real opportunity to showcase the sport – and what’s more, the IOC has signed an agreement to work closer with the World Games as a result of Agenda 2020.

The IOC basically sees the World Games as a test platform for new events. Therefore, we all have huge interest in delivering a great compound event at future World Games. Together with USA Archery, we should aim to have 10,000 spectators watching the finals in Birmingham.

That would send a clear message.

World Archery is also working to have compound added to other Continental Games, following the example of the Asian edition, as another way of increasing visibility.

“What are the IOC’s criteria for adding new events? “

There are many areas of assessment for new sports events in the Olympic Games. They range from participation, popularity, gender balance and competition level, to engagement with youth, integrity and individuality. One essential factor is television appeal.

Compound archery has the qualities of an Olympic discipline – but it will be up against tough competition like skateboarding, squash, wakeboarding and 3×3 basketball.

For the 2016 Olympic Games, along with the 26 Summer Olympic sports from London, there were 23 additional requests from sports to join the event. We are not the only ones with great ideas!

Now that we’re excited to see compound archers in the Olympic stadium, what can specifically be done to add compound archery to the Olympic Games? How can archery fans support this effort – and how are governing bodies working to make this change? Keep an eye out for our next article in this series, which will explore next steps for this initiative.


You may also want to read this piece from the NYT from 2012.


The Apple Watch: what you need to know

13 April, 2015


The Apple Watch is the imminent offering from the world’s biggest company. It promises, like so many gleamingly post-modern, well-designed products before it, to change our lives for the better. With a disciplined publicity machine accompanying the global rollout, the watch became finally available to order last Friday, although it may take you a while to get hold of one.

What does it do? Well, not much unless you already have a late-model iPhone, which it relies on for much of its functionality. It tells the time, with a variety of customizable watch faces available. It shows text messages, email and social media notifications. It can monitor your heartrate and use it as part of a digital health regimen. It will show the weather and your calendar. It can change the music you are listening to on your phone. It can take calls (the ‘Star Trek‘ dream finally coming true!) and communicate with Siri. It can be used to make payments and unlock hotel rooms, and provide turn-by-turn navigation.  But almost all of this functionality is ultimately a glorified remote control; something to spare you the immense chore of pulling your iPhone out of a pocket.

The much more interesting elements are part of a suite applying what Apple calls ‘haptic feedback‘, including a gizmo on the back that can tap you on the wrist, which can be used in conjunction with suitable apps and enabling users to share a heartbeat; the intimately personal mediated via a server farm in California.


The idea of a smartwatch is not new, nor is the idea of a watch that can assist in tracking your fitness. The health aspects have been pushed hard as part of the hype; unsurprisingly – over one-third of US adults are now considered to be obese with similar rises across the rest of the West, and the potential to finally be fit is an easy sell.  Some commentators have gone further and suggested that the watch will be a powerful tool in changing habits. However, the real ‘killer apps’ that expand the market beyond early adopters will likely be built not by Apple but by external developers; as with the iPhone, a lot of the application heavy lifting is done by third parties.

So far, so tech-evangelistic, now for the bad stuff, starting with the daily charging required, requiring yet another different, expensive proprietary charger. Most models are large, heavy, and 11.5 mm thick which may put people off, and the design – square, weighty with rounded corners – has divided people (personally, I think it’s a hideous throwback to the 1980s, but your mileage may vary). The fact that developers cannot take advantage of all the most unique features yet. The lack of a full suite of working apps. The slowwww load times.  The lack of GPS, which pretty much ruins any advantages for runners. The fact that it isn’t fully waterproof.

But for me, easily the most egregious of all the Apple Watch’s issues is the price. The base ‘Sport’ model costs $349 (£299 in Britain) for the watch and a plastic pastel strap; if you want a stainless-steel version with an attractive leather or metal strap, you are suddenly looking at $649 (£559) – more than a new iPhone. The lower-end model apparently comes with a screen that is more easily damaged.

There are also versions in rose and yellow gold, which vary between $10k and $17k (£13.5k).


The gold version is a spectacular piece of legerdemain. Apple will sell a handful to those keen on conspicuous consumption (and perhaps a few in China), but the real point of offering such a high-priced option is its ability to act as a price anchor. What is price anchoring? Let me illustrate it for you in a different context, with a menu from Balthazar in New York:


Apparently, the first place most people look on restaurant menus is the top right hand corner, where your eye is drawn with a picture to two eye-wateringly expensive plates of seafood (Le Grand and Le Balthazar). They probably sell only a handful of these a month – no matter. The point of them and their prominent placing is to make the more humble seafood orders below seem like a relative bargain. Note the box around ‘Shrimp Cocktail’, drawing the diner’s attention.  Is $21 such an indulgence for a shrimp cocktail? Not next to a $155 blowout, it’s not. And similarly, next to a prominently displayed $10,000 luxury watch that will likely be obsolete in a year, a $649 one doesn’t seem nearly so ridiculous.

It also needs to be firmly pointed out that $10k will buy you a Rolex or similar that will work for decades and likely appreciate in value, rather than depreciate at a gathering pace as the technology inside antiquates.  Whichever model you choose, you are essentially, right now, paying a large amount of money for a fashionable remote control, something to stop you reaching for your phone in your bag or your pocket. That’s the bottom line. It’s a smartphone accessory. If you think that represents value, then go right ahead.


So what does any of this mean for archers?  The range of apps available for scoring and recording increases every year, and I have been keenly using the excellent ArcherZUpshot for some time. A watch-based app that could be used to quickly score a round by tapping on a target face would be an excellent addition to the arsenal, and possibly a wider product or products that tracked my fitness along with total arrows shot could actually improve my shooting (if I could get used to the extra weight, although I have seen people on the range using smartphone archery apps in sport armbands). You could perhaps see the potential for scoring tournaments too, in the unlikely event that every single person attending owned a compatible device.

Essentially, the future is wide open. This first hardware outing may be the public beta edition, and in a few years time, a slim, cheap smartwatch with five full days of battery life may be the norm for all archers  – and indeed, all athletes – perhaps feeding information to remote coaches, who could use the physical feedback mechanisms as reward and reinforcing tools. Future models will apparently include blood-pressure sensors and a host of other data gatherers (with all the privacy implications that implies). Maybe indeed, we’ll soon wonder how we managed without one.

But right now, I think the Apple Watch is a disaster – and here’s why: it’s a turbo-charged distraction engine, custom-made to interrupt your training or your train-of-thought, in a Western world where distraction is now common currency.  It’s the smartphone that is always face up on the table.

The increasingly strident warnings initiated by author Nicholas Carr, starting with his 2008 article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ claim that the internet is actually rewiring our brains and making deep thought and concentration more and more difficult to achieve. There are numerous warning signs (some of which I have seen in myself), suggesting that the dopamine rewards of continuous distraction become addictive and difficult to remove from your life. A slightly disingenuous Wired article about the watch claims that the intention was to free people from their phones and allow cleaner, shorter interactions with the world, but it also gives the game away by revealing that the watch came first and what it actually does came after that. Steve Jobs must be turning in his grave.

You may not believe that the digital sky is falling, but even the most noob archer can see that the slow, deep, complex processes necessary to become a great shooter on any level, the ‘mind like water’, the Zen calmness and inner strength, are going to be swiftly torpedoed by having something on your wrist begging you for attention and tying you in to distant networks – taking you away from the present.

true meaning of zen


Archery, like all martial arts, requires a burning focus to do well, as well as encouraging a level of responsibility and self-reliance, rather than outsourcing expertise to a technology corporation. I wonder if the ever-higher drop-out rate amongst junior archers – all now ‘digital natives‘, of course – in the sport is down to the difficulties of making archery fit with an always-connected lifestyle.  Despite the speed of a launched arrow, archery is essentially a slow, meditative sport and may be well seen alongside current ‘slow movement’ trends, e.g. food, journalism and living in general.

I’m definitely not a Luddite (or an Apple hater – I’m typing this on my MacBook ;) ) but I am increasingly of the opinion that the internet, now so firmly entrenched in all our lives, needs to be observed mindfully from time to time. I actually think the digital age represents an almost limitlessly powerful force for good, but we need to remember that we are still just upright apes desperate to fit in with our troop. It may not always be the case that tools that help us to be always-on are always a good thing.


back to katniss

25 March, 2015


“In every class, I ask them what makes them want to do archery and at least one will say Hunger Games or the little ones its ‘I want to be Merida in Brave’,” Ms Norman said.

So is quoted an archery coach in Victoria, Australia, and you can read the full article and watch the video here:

“Archery Victoria’s president Irene Norman said its membership had shot up over the past four years from 777 members in 2010 to 1740 in February this year as it rode a wave of popular culture references that was drawing new members every week…  It is not just little girls and teenagers either. Ms Norman said there were women in their 30s who came to archery clubs wearing Mockingjay pins.

“Sometimes I have to explain they won’t be able to get the effect they want if they use the same type of bow as in The Hunger Games,” she said.”

So it appears the ‘Katniss Effect’ is still packing them in to beginners courses around the world. This article is just one in a long line of similar newspaper and media features in the last couple of years, from the New York Times (twice) to NPR to the Guardian and the Telegraph amongst many others. It’s almost become a cliche – the interest in and take-up of archery, especially recurve and especially among teenage girls, has gone through the roof – what’s more interesting is that it seems to be sustained.

Jennifer Lawrence with US Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig, who trained her for the role. Photo: ESPN

Jennifer Lawrence with US Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig, who trained her for the role. Photo: ESPN

The main problem for archery as a community is sustaining all that enthusiasm and interest when the fantasy meets the reality, probably via a battered Samick Polaris in a chilly sports hall. Some are directly engaging with this, such as the publicity work of Archery 360 for the ATA, but it may well be on the ground that people really needs nurturing. Often, people’s entire experience and future in target archery hinges on the personality of the local club secretary or archery shop staff –  who might just be having a bad day, or (in the USA) may be busy explaining the penetration capabilities of scary-looking broadheads to a guy dressed in camo instead.

Everywhere, the image of the sport needs modernising.  There needs to be an ever-simpler and clearer path to welcome a wider demographic to the sport from the groundswell of interest which, with another film due in November and Rio on the horizon, seems set to continue.

The entertainment in the film and the various others is just that – it’s not the sport – but it can take people places. I’ve mentioned several times on this blog why I think the ‘Katniss Effect’ is a good thing (with plenty of reservations about the posters, and I’m not the only one). I personally know someone who took up archery after watching the film only a couple of years ago, and last December made the cut in women’s recurve at the UK Indoor National Championship besting several current UK internationals in the process. It’s entirely possible that the Olympic champion at Tokyo 2020 (or even sooner?) will owe that original spark of interest to a movie.


back to business

23 March, 2015


Ki Bo Bae

Ki Bo Bae

The hardest archery tournament in the world. The Korea Archery Association have finished their yearly recurve selection tournament in Donghae City, a brutal week involving six 70m rounds and three days of head to head shooting – and apparently in miserably cold and rainy conditions, too. The top eight, in order, in each gender are:


1. Kim Woojin  (2011 world champion), who absolutely dominated the men’s division.

2. Lee Woo Seok  (2014 Youth Olympics champion)

3. Shin Jae Hun  (promising Korean cadet in 2008, fallen off the international radar for a few years)

4. Im Dong Hyun  (what hasn’t he won?)

5. Oh Jin Hyuk  (2012 Olympic champ, amongst much else)

6. Lee Seungyun  (2013 world champion) – had the top 70m score with 695.

7. Ku Bonchan  (brought home silverware last year)

8. Lee Seung Shin  (seems to be new on the block)


1. Ki Bo Bae  (2012 Olympic champion)

2. Jeon Sungeun  (Team LH pro, Bangkok 2014 indoor champion, 2013 WA Youth champion, 2013 Vegas shoot champ too)

3. Chang Hye Jin  (Team LH pro, 2014 Antalya individual champion, 2014 Asian Games team gold)

4. Choi Mi Seon  (20 years old, and on the Guangzhou University team – that’s all I’ve got)

5. Heung Soo Nam  (Cheongju City Hall team)

6. Lee Tuk Young  (2006 and 2014 Asian Games team gold medallist)

7. Kang Chae Young  (was a cadet in 2011)

8. Park Mi Kyung  (last seen on the international stage in 2003!)

Archers who didn’t make the cut include veterans Yun Ok Hee and Joo Hyun Jung (who has apparently retired), and perhaps most surprisingly, Jung Dasomi, last year’s Asian Games individual champion. There are further warmup tournaments next month which narrow down the eight to a front-line four that will likely contest the big events.

The biggest story of all is the triumphant return of Ki Bo Bae, after failing to make the 2014 squad due to a shoulder injury. She had maintained considerable form, managing to shoot a 1391 FITA last year for her pro team – even though a TV news piece at the end of last year hinted she might be retiring from international archery. Also, Im Dong Hyun, who was slightly in the wilderness in 2014, has achieved a truly staggering 13th consecutive selection for the national team.

Lee Woo Seok. Photo: Xinhua

Lee Woo Seok. Photo: Xinhua

It’s an interesting mix of familiar faces, veterans and youngsters; the real ones to watch might be the young wunderkinds Choi Mi Seon, who was leading the ranking round for two days, and Youth Olympic champion Lee Woo Seok (who, rumour has it, scored 710 for a 70m round earlier this year). If they deliver this season, who would actually bet against an Olympic medal next year?

News piece here (in Korean).


EDIT: and here they all are (via the KAA)