Archery at the Moscow Olympics -- a long way from Sherwood Forest

In a stiff wind, blond Carole Toy stood in a white top and jeans on a grassy field. She wound a cord around her left hand, adjusted a finger-guard made of skin and metal on her right, checked the black leather quiver hanging from her belt, and picked up her bow.

And what a bow it was. When I was a boy watching archery matches near my home, a bow looked like a bow, the one Robin Hood used -- plain wood and string.

But Carole's is aluminum, orange and white, bristling with what look like metal antennae, stabilizers, and sights -- a fearsome-looking object bearing about as much resemblance to the traditional idea of a bow as a space rocket does to a tricycle.

I met her at the quieter edge of the Moscow Olympics, in the gentle atmosphere of an archery range created on a forme swamp and located between the blue-and-white steel butterfly shape of the Olympic cycling track and the newly refurbished rowing canal.

Yet as we chatted before she started the second of four days of competition, the reverberations of politics, the US-led boycott, of Russian thoroughness and inflexibility, could all be heard, even there in the hot sunshine, under gay orange sun-umbrellas.

There has never been an Olympics like this one. The atmosphere penetrates even the thwack and the twang of the archery world.

But first, back to Carole's bow. It's an American model, weighing five pounds, worth about $550 with all its big-match extras. It expresses both new technology and a high degree of individualism.

Carole is a long-established archer from Victoria in Australia, third in the world women's title in Berlin last year and 15th at the Montreal Olympics. As she methodically prepared to begin the second half of the second day of shooting (competitors shoot over various distances for four days, firing 36 arrows every three hours, 288 arrows in all), Australian archery manager Keith Gaisford gave me a guided tour of the bow.

Both top and bottom curved parts, called "limbs," are detachable, for carrying. The bowstring, cut to size by each archer himself, is usually made from an American carbon fiber called kevlar, stronger and snappier than the dacron it is replacing.

Starting at the top of the bow, the first piece of apparatus you encounter is a black metal sight, like the one on a rifle. Each archer must adjust it for elevation, depending on the distance he or she is shooting. Ideally, every draw of the bowstring is exactly the same. Extra distance comes from aiming higher.

The arrow is inserted through a metal strip called a "clicker." When the arrow is pulled back to the full distance, the arrow-head clicks against the strip.

On the lower half of the bow are three metal rods. Out front is a stabilizer. When the arrow is pulled back, the bow is perfectly balanced, with the hand holding the bow at the pivot-point. Pointing back at the archer are two more rods, smaller in size and mounted on rubber joints, which prevent the stabilizer pulling the bow forward in the hand between shots.

Like other archers, Carole wears a belt and a quiver hanging from it. Unlike others, she made her quiver herself from black leather. Also on her belt is a holder for the talcum powder she smears between thumb and forefinger on her left hand where it grips the bow.

The string around her left hand also goes around the bow so it doesn't fall down between shots. She carries a pair of binoculars to check where her arrows land on the butt (target). That morning the butt stood 30 meters (98.4 feet) away, and measured 80 centimeters (31.5 inches) across.

Her arrows, like most others, are made from hollow aluminum, produced by an American company. Each archer cuts his own arrows to his own length. The taller the contestant, the longer the arrow. The longer the shaft and the heavier the bow, the larger the diameter of the arrow must be.

Carole checked her red and white headband. A buzzer sounded and an electronic scoreboard indicated all competitors designated "A" should prepare to shoot. Twenty seconds later, with everyone ready to shoot, the scoreboard began counting down 150 seconds. Before that time has elapsed, each archer must fire off three arrows. Then "B" and "C" competitors shoot.

The day we talked, Carole was disappointed in her score. She had totaled 816 after the first 108 arrows, putting her in 16th place. Leading the women's field: Soviet national champion, the slender Natalya Butuzova with 916 and heavyset Soviet Georgian athlete Ketevan Losaberidze 911.

Several competitors said it was a pity American archers were not competing. While the two Soviet women would probably still have won ("They shoot as if there were no wind at all," said one admiring Westerner), the US men, led by Darrell Pace were heavy favorites.

"The American men have total concentration and control," said Mr. Gaisford. "They are the best."

Said one Western competitor: "You should see the way the Russian coaches behave. One of the Soviet women shot into the blue an outer target ring] and her coach took her aside and shook her. Really.

"If I don't do well here, no one will punish me. But if the Russians do poorly, they could lose some priveleges and be criticized severely."

Competitors said the archery events were organized well. A total of 67 competitors from 25 countries took part. Food at the Olympic Village was adequate, though some complained that meat dishes were soggy. And they paid tribute to the Soviet Union's massive powers of mobilization.

"Since we started to practice, there's been a lot of rain," said one, "and we had to put rubber boots on to shoot on the practice field. This competition range was also waterlogged.

"Practically overnight, the Russians dug up the entire range, all the grass. They laid down wire mesh to help the drainage, filled it in, and laid the grass back. Now it's fine."

She shook her head. "Amazing," she said.

The sun shone. The wind kept shifting direction, now head- on, now from the side. Flags snapped and flapped. Several hundred people sat in the open stands. The "quiet" side of the Moscow Olympics continued.

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