Why aren’t compound bows used in the Olympics?

Compound bows have been around since the 1960s. Here in the U.S., you’re more likely to see people shooting compounds at the local archery range than recurve bows. Watch any of the televised coverage of archery at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, however, and all you’ll see are recurve bows.

Why aren’t compound bows used in the Olympics?

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Compound archers stack the line at the World Cup tournament in Shanghai, China. (Photo courtesy of World Archery)

A New York Times article published ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London quoted a FITA official who opined that the world might see compound bows being shot during the archery competition at the 2016 Games.

FITA has since changed names to World Archery, and compound bows will not be shot in this year’s Olympics. Nor does the world’s governing body for archery expect them to be used in the next Olympics, either.

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American archer Jake Kaminski shoots his recurve bow during the 2012 Olympics in London.

“It’s not so much a case of the compound being allowed, but more making it appealing so that when we apply to have it included, the decision makers at the International Olympic Committee see that what we’re proposing will bring a lot of value to the Olympic Games,” said World Archery Secretary General Tom Dielen.

“There are many different areas we need to progress. Each sport and discipline at the Olympics must offer something different to the Games, athletes and spectators. There must be universality – meaning that people from countries all around the world compete at a high level – and gender equality.

“At the moment, the top compound archers are focused in countries in Europe and North and Central America. We need to do more to promote the compound in Asia, Africa and Oceania…”

Elite archer Reo Wilde, 42, of Idaho, is currently ranked by World Archery No. 3 in the world among men’s compound archers, and he’s the top-ranked American. He’s been dreaming of the day when he might shoot his compound bow in the Olympics.

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Reo Wilde competes at the first World Cup event of 2016 in China. (Photo courtesy of World Archery)

And while he keeps hoping, Wilde sees his dream slipping away with each passing Olympics.

“I think it would be great for the sport, but there’s a lot of politics getting in the way,” he said. “I hope to have the chance to go one day, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the world organization that determines which sports are featured in the winter and summer Olympic Games. After each Olympics, the IOC sits down and hears from world sports committees, like World Archery, about sports that could be added to the next games.

Getting compound bows into the Olympics is not simply a matter of convincing the IOC that the move would be good for the archery competition, but it’s convincing the IOC that adding compounds is a better idea than adding scads of other sports that are also trying to get in the Games.

At the 2016 Summer Olympics, for example, golf and seven-on-seven rugby will make their Olympic debuts.

“There is already a cap on the number of athletes that can attend a Games, and if we added the same competition as we currently have with the recurve, it would mean doubling the number of archery competitors,” Dielen said.

“Questions of logistics, like this, will have to be worked through when the time comes.”

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(Photo courtesy of World Archery)

The current archery competition at the Olympics allows each country or group of countries with a National Olympic Committee – there are 206 around the world – to send a maximum of six archers. Those archers all shoot at the beginning of the Games to qualify for 64 male and 64 female slots in the individual competition. Twenty-four national teams of three archers apiece – 12 men’s teams and 12 female teams – will be chosen from those 128 archers to compete for team medals.

“The demands for housing for athletes, coaches and team officials continues to increase, and the sheer number of people requiring support is financially daunting,” said Jay McAninch, president/CEO of Archery Trade Association (ATA), which represents manufacturers, retailers, distributors and other working in the archery and bowhunting industry.

“Add to that a crowded broadcast schedule and it’s hard to justify adding new sports or expanding existing sports like archery. Yet, the IOC is growing the event and we’ve learned that they are open to new proposals or proposals for change that includes increases in some aspects of many sports.”

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(Photo courtesy of World Archery.)

So is there a year when we might expect to see Olympic archers shooting compound bows at the Games?

It’s too soon to ask that question, McAninch and Dielen  say.

According to Dielen, World Archery’s top priority is working to get mixed-team archery – men and women shooting recurves together – into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. World Archery already includes mixed-team events in its competitions. The U.S. team of Brady Ellison and Khatuna Lorig in April won the mixed-team gold medal in China at the first World Cup event of 2016.

McAninch said getting compounds into the Olympics is a “step beyond the challenge of strengthening compounds in all the countries of the world. The process for doing this, we feel, is to work with the leading Federations in each continent to increase the number and quality of compound archers in competitions from communities to countries to major continent and world tournaments.

“Increasing prize money and contingency will also play a significant role in this process. In short, we think the path to landing compounds in the Olympics starts in communities worldwide and progresses though national, regional, continental and world tournaments.”

Dielen adds, “We’re up against things like 3×3 basketball, skateboarding and sport climbing, and we’ve got to make compound archery a more appealing choice.”

And there’s a huge opportunity looming to show the IOC just how great it would be to have archers shooting compound bows in the Olympics. The World Games is an international event held every four years, which features sports not contested in the Olympics. The games are endorsed by the IOC, and are seen as a proving ground for potential, new Olympic contests.

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The men’s U.S. compound team of, from left, Steve Anderson, Reo Wilde and Alex Wifler won the silver medal at the first, outdoor World Cup tournament of 2016 in Shanghai, China. (Photo courtesy of World Archery)

Compound target archery was first included in the World Games in 2013, and it was considered to be a “great success,” according to Dielen. It will be part of the 2017 games in Poland, and again in 2021, when the games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Making compound archery a huge success in Birmingham would do a lot for its chances” at getting into the Olympics, Dielen said. “If 5,000 people turn up to watch every competition session and the public demand is high, people will have to take notice. Supporting this event in the USA is critical.”

McAninch said success at the World Games and other similar events will determine when compound archery becomes an Olympic sport.

“Until we see national, regional and continental competitions where compounds are as strong as recurves, we can’t assume compounds would have any chance of being in the Olympic Games,” he said.