Skip to main content

Learn More About Archery

Olympics Trivia

What is the history of archery?

Archery is one of the oldest ancient arts still practiced today. The use of bows and arrows for hunting can be specifically traced back to the Aurignacians, who existed some 15,000 years ago in an area 37 miles southwest of what is now Toulouse, France. However, paleontologists suspect that the use of bows and arrows for hunting developed independently in many parts of the world during the Paleolithic era (35,000 B.C. to 8000 B.C.)

Target archery is seen in the ballads of Robin Hood and William Tell. The sport’s historical importance is further confirmed by the number of contemporary family names directly derived from archery: Archer, Arrowsmith, Bowman and Stringer, to name a few.

Archery was prohibited in England under the rule of Oliver Cromwell (a Puritan) in the mid-1600s, but following the Restoration (1659), it was again endorsed as a legitimate and worthy pursuit. The first recorded formal competition, the Ancient Scorton Arrow Contest, was held in 1673, and several archery clubs developed over the following century. One of the clubs, formed under the patronage of King George IV, evolved into the Grand National Archery Association, and in 1844 the first English national championships were held.

In the United States, archery was practiced almost entirely by Native Americans until 1828, when Titian Ramsey Peale, an artist who had studied the Plains Indians, introduced the sport to his friends in Philadelphia and founded an archery club. Then in 1878, former Confederate soldier Maurice Thompson wrote a book, The Witchery of Archery, which inspired the formation of more than 20 archery clubs in less than a year. Those clubs formed the National Archery Association; its first men’s champion was Thompson’s brother Will Thompson, who went on to win four more titles.

Archery at the Olympic Games

Archery first appeared in the Olympics in 1900 and was held again in 1904, 1908 and 1920. However, international rules had not yet been developed and each host country used its own format. Because of the resulting confusion, the sport was eliminated from the Olympic program, though unofficial archery exhibitions were held in 1956 and 1964.

In 1972, after enough countries had adopted FITA’s rules, archery was readmitted into the Olympic Games. Initially, there was only one event for men and one for women. Men's and women’s team competitions were added to the 1988 Olympic program, doubling the number of archery events to four.

What are the current Olympic archery events?

All five events will be recurve archery events, which employs a recurve bow, a type of bow that may have a mechanical sight, but no optical enhancements. The competition will start with an initial ranking round involving all 64 archers of each gender. Each archer will shoot a total of 72 arrows to be seeded from 1–64 according to their score.

Visit USA Archery to learn more

Sports in this article


Tags in this article

Parent SportsEngine