Fifteen years of squinting at a faraway target can become somewhat tiresome, archer Ruth Rowe is discovering in life after the Olympics.

Rowe, the top female archer in the United States, is exploring new fields after her 12th-place finish in the Los Angeles Olympics. Considered a medal contender, the McLean resident was disappointed by her performance and her interest in the exacting sport might be fading.

"I'm at a crossroads," said Rowe, 36, who yesterday accepted the Olympia Award, given by the Southland Corp. to outstanding amateur athletes in Olympic sports. "After 15 years of major international competition, sometimes I think I'm ready for something different. I would love to continue, but I don't know if I can be prepared and at the same time do the other things I want to do. And if I can't do it well, I won't do it at all."

There are a couple of competitions left in Rowe, however. The national championships will be held in July at the Miami (Ohio) University, where she expects to earn a place on the U.S. World Team. In August, the World Championships will be held at the site of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She expects a berth on the world team, she said, with a healthy dose of confidence.

"I'll be there," she said. "There's no way I can finish lower than fourth (in the national championships). I don't see how I could unless I miss the target."

Whether she will go to the 1988 Olympics still is in doubt. Her disappointing finish in Los Angeles may be one motivating factor. She had finished sixth at the 1984 World Championships and expected to do at least that well in the Olympics. A return engagement in 1988 might not be worth the effort and money to a 36-year-old businesswoman with a pragmatic bent.

"Six months ago I said probably not, but I can't say that now," she said. "I can do much better than that (12th place). I'm still evaluating my future, what's the best return of my time and money. I've been in every event I wanted to. Yes, I would like to win, but I'm not sure how costly it would be."

Rowe's training for the upcoming championships is her first venture back into archery since Los Angeles. She took six months off after the Olympics, the longest period of time spent away from archery in her amateur career. Her interests began to stray and her career as a free-lance technical writer who specializes in computer literature began to expand. So did her interest in coaching and photography.

"I was just kind of flat," she said. "I said, 'Hey, there's no reason to shoot.' My free-lancing began to take off. Between that and no archery, my interests started to go the other way."

Rowe's interests in archery are beginning to take new directions as well. She is trying her hand at coaching, training a friend part time, with favorable results. She also become active in promoting archery on a local level. One project is an attempt to convince the Fairfax County Parks Department to devote land to an Olympic-style archery range. She would also like to start an archery program at George Mason University, or at least teach some classes.

Beyond that, the future is decidedly open ended.

"I've been so focused," she said. "My whole life was arranged around it, so I don't know. I guess that's why I keep saying I don't know."