Through rain and hail and dark of day, the archer continued to ply her trade. Despite all those obstacles over four days and 288 arrows here, Ruth Rowe maintained her composure and won the women's championship in the National Sports Festival with a score of 2,417.

Rowe, a free-lance technical writer and editor from Gaithersburg, Md., defeated Benita Edds by 29 points and Luann Ryon, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist, by 50.

Asked if she was pleased with her score, Rowe said, "Under standard conditions, no. With the conditions we had here, I'll take it. The day before yesterday, we had cool temperatures and rain, and it was hard to feel the bow with your hand.

"Archery is a total feel and if you can't feel, you've got problems. Then the wind rose late that day and made things worse. Yesterday, it was cold and windy and I was getting chilled. It makes things difficult."

Dark clouds circled the archery field today, but the rain did not begin until the competition had ended. The absence of weather problems permitted Rowe to concentrate on a hitch in her swing, so to speak, and she was able to keep her right elbow where it belonged throughout a solid 30-meter round of 335 (of a possible 360).

"I felt real strong and I knew where the weak link in my whole shooting sequence was," she said. "I paid close attention and everything was all right. It was a line problem that I discovered the last day of the Pan Am Trials (where she finished second to Ryon).

"My right elbow was a little off line and my back muscles weren't working quite the way they should."

The back muscles, Rowe explained, are the key to the sport. That is why, at 6-1 and 138, with a physical makeup vastly dissimilar to most of her opponents, Rowe nevertheless summons the strength to release her bow, again and again.

Rowe is gifted with intense concentration, and the rare occasions when she stopped after beginning to sight the target were, she said, merely because she was not set up properly, rather than a reaction to the chatter behind her.

"Six or seven years ago, I had to practice next to an indoor pistol range," she said. "They would fire the .38s and .45s just as I was ready to shoot and, after a while, it got so I didn't notice. I doubt if a sonic boom would break my concentration now.

"You can let yourself be distracted, but you just learn to concentrate on what you're doing. At full draw, I just tune everything out."

Donald Campbell, the East team manager, called Rowe's consistency the key to her success.

"Archery is like golf--the more consistent in form the better you are," he said. "She's very consistent in her shooting form and she has an excellent attitude.

"Archery at this level is a real mental game, because shooting form becomes almost automatic. If you let anything interfere, it will throw off your arrows."

Rowe wears glasses when she is working, but not while shooting. Then, after firing an arrow, she lifts binoculars from her hip and checks the location.

"I'm far-sighted, so I don't need glasses to shoot, but I have to know whether I've gotten a nine or a 10," Rowe said.

Archery tends to occupy a lot of time. Unlike other sports, which use the festival or the U.S. championships for team selection, archery holds separate trials for the Pan American Games and world championships.

Rowe was in Arizona for the Pan Am trials earlier this month. After the festival, she will be home for three weeks before traveling to the world championship trials in St. Louis. Five days later, she will be off to Long Beach, Calif., for the U.S. championships. The Pan Am Games follow quickly and the world championships are set for Long Beach in October.

"It keeps you very busy, and running your own business helps," Rowe said. "I can see how some people run into job difficulties. But one positive thing--while archery requires a lot of training, it does not call for the long workouts that some other athletes need.

"During tournament time, I practice three times a week for two or three hours. But in the fall and early winter I cut it to once a week, or quit for a while."

Rowe is the U.S. indoor champion and, while rain, wind and hail are not factors indoors, the target area is considerably reduced for the 18-meter distance. Outdoors, the women alternate rounds from 70, 60, 50 and 30 meters.

"Outdoor competition requires more precision, because there are so many more factors to deal with," said Rowe, who was first introduced to the sport in a freshman physical education class at the University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in biology.

U.S. archers have won all the Olympic gold medals they have contested, in 1972 and 1976, but the Soviets are becoming a positive force in this sport, too. The current women's world record holder, with a round of 1,324--a double round was shot here--is Soviet Natalia Butuzova.

The competition here was not close, as Rowe and Rick McKinney led almost from start to finish. The rewards were not high--a gold medal, a step up on selection for next year's national team and the assurance of sound sleep.