SOURCE: 1996 U.S. Olympic Archery Team Fact Book, September 1995 (unedited)

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History of Archery and the NAA

Archery is one of the oldest arts of ancient times which is still practiced today. From its first development until the 1500s, the bow was man’s constant companion and has been the most widely used of all weapons in recorded history. The bow allowed the prehistoric human to become the most efficient hunter on earth, providing him safety, food and raw materials such as bone, sinew and hide. From that time on, archery has played an important role in many of the world’s civilizations.

Starting with the reign of William the Conquerer, the bow was England’s principal weapon of national defense for several centuries. Around the year 1200, Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes conquered much of the known world employing short, powerful bows. For Native Americans, archery was the means of subsistence and existence during the days of English and later American colonization. Finally, after the bow’s replacement by firearms as a weapon of war, archery became a favored sport, thus securing its continuous practice throughout history.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, archery’s importance as a cultural advance ranks with the development of speed and the art of making fire. The use of the bow appears in folklore from over 3000 years ago, although its invention probably predates that era.

The development of archery followed a course of key innovations by many historical cultures. About 3500 B.C., Egyptians were using bows as tall as themselves. Their arrowheads, originally constructed of flint, were later made of bronze. Almost 2000 years later, the Assyrians developed the shorter recurve bow, which provided more power and easier handling. In about 1200 B.C., the Hittites developed the skill of shooting from moving chariots, and around 500 A.D., the Romans, formerly second-rate archers, began to draw the arrow to the face rather than the chest, giving the shot more accuracy.

There are many legendary stories and heroes which find their roots in archery. The ancient Olympic games, tradition holds, were founded by an archer named Hercules. The Games featured archery with tethered doves as the targets. Target archery is also seen in the ballads of Robin Hood and William Tell, which show the respect that the English had for great archers. Archery tournaments, as we know them today, can also be traced back to England. Competitions were held as part of community festivals as early as the 17th century.

The National Archery Association (NAA) of the United States had its origin as a result of the country’s history. After the Civil War, Confederate soldiers were not allowed to own firearms. Because of this, two brothers — J. Maurice and William H. Thompson — learned to do their hunting with the bow and arrow and became accomplished archers. They were both founding members of the NAA in 1879 at Crawfordsville, Ind.

Archery became an official event in the modern Olympic Games in 1900 and was also featured in 1904, 1908 and 1920. International rules had not yet been developed, though, and each host country used its own rules and format. Because of the resulting confusion, the sport was eliminated from the Olympic program.

The Federation Internationale de Tir a l’Arc (FITA), was founded in 1931 as the international governing body for the sport of archery. The organization implemented standardized rules for competition which allowed the first World Championship to be held that same year.

In 1972, after enough countries had adopted FITA’s rules, archery was readmitted into the Olympic Games. Since that time, technology has greatly advanced the equipment, and some competitive formats have become obsolete, but the sport of archery has essentially remained the same.

Since 1972, the United States has won every Olympic men’s individual gold medal except for 1980 (the U.S. boycott year) and 1992.

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