(Ed note: For the next couple of weeks we'll be bringing you the Los Angeles Review of Books coverage of the 2012 Olympics)
On Archery by Paisley Rekdal
FIRST, WE MUST CONSIDER the draw.
This is the amount of weight an archer pulls when drawing a bow: 50 pounds is the average draw for the male Olympian; 20 pounds the average for the female. With a recurve (the Olympic bow of choice), weight increases as the bow is drawn, stopping at its peak weight: imagine, if you will, the strength required to draw, steady, then focus your arrow with 50 pounds of tension weighing on a single arm, all in the hopes of hitting a target at 70 meters in less than 40 seconds. Like many of the Olympics’ less visually spectacular sports (curling comes to mind, though the Norwegian team’s harlequin pants certainly made an impression), archery’s drama is internal; but for those who have ever practiced it, as I have, watching archery reminds us that, while a feat of both instinct and psychology, it is most importantly a sport of stamina. The draw never changes, but your ability to pull efficiently does, and the tendency of your arrow to wobble — a weakness inherent to every shot due to the arrow’s torque — will only increase as you fatigue, even with the aid of a stabilizer. Without training, the draw weight will exhaust you after a few shots. Your target focus will slide, your bowstring fingers callous like a guitar player’s. Most painfully, the tender inner forearm of the hand that grips your bow belly will burn with welts that the bowstring, having released the arrow at 150 miles per hour, raises at it snaps against your exposed flesh like a wet whipcord of Kevlar. Instinctively, you’ll flinch at each release, ruining your shot. You will have to learn to wear an arm and chest guard.