Those who compete in the little-understood sport of archery say there is nothing quite like the feel of shooting a bow and then watching the arrow achieve speeds up to 140 miles per hour en route to its target. It is a thrill that appears to have originated with primitive hunters some 50,000 years ago.
Nearly 200 world-class archers from approximately 40 different countries matched skills here recently in the 32nd World Archery Championships, an event hosted by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Next year's Olympic competition, of course, will be held at the same site.
Team honors for the four-day event were won by the American men and South Korean women. The individuals with the highest scores were long-time rivals Rick McKinney and Darrell Pace of the United States, each of whom scored 2,617 points out of a possible 2,880.
McKinney, however, was declared the 1983 world champion because he had more 10-point shots than Pace during the tournament. Jin Ho Kim of South Korea won the women's competition, in which some target distances are slightly shorter, with a total of 2,616 points. The Soviet Union, its politics showing, pulled out several weeks before the meet.
Great strength, or long fingers, or a build like a pro football player are not necessary to become a first-class archer, since the bow does most of the work, according to Sheri Rhodes, coach of this year's US combined men's and women's team. She is also Arizona State University's archery coach.
''It helps in archery if you have strong shoulders, because most of your body control comes from there,'' Rhodes explained. ''But the real test of this sport is mental. You get all the things you have to handle in your mind straightened out ahead of time, so that when you do shoot you can really concentrate on what you are doing. Learning to read wind conditions is also very important to an archer's success.''
There are no typical archers, any more than there are typical secretaries, firemen, or grain salesmen. People develop their own styles and methods of preparation. Coaching is almost impossible to get on a regular basis because at the national level there are only about 30 top-rated archery teachers available.
The other problem is geography. If one of the country's approximately 200 serious archers (this number includes men and women) doesn't live reasonably close to a coach, there is little opportunity for them to get together except at tournaments. So most archers wind up being self taught, and basically do a good job at it.
By far the most fascinating piece of archery equipment to the spectator is the bow, particularly the center of the bow, where stabilizer rods, elaborate sights, and an arrow rest are mounted. Many parts are interchangeable, with heavier or lighter pieces used depending upon the type of competition.
Bows range in price from $600 to $1,200 and are both durable and flexible. As new archers learn to draw more weight, they can purchase new limbs for their bows instead of having to buy all new equipment. Bows can also be taken apart for travel or storage.
Arrows are extremely important, in some cases becoming almost as important to an archer as a favorite bat would be to a baseball player. It has often been said that, forced to choose, an expert archer would rather use a third-rate bow and first-rate arrows than vice versa. Arrows of hollow aluminum tubing or a mixture of aluminum and graphite cost between $60 and $75 a dozen and last almost indefinitely, provided the arrow doesn't become damaged in some way. Wooden arrows are still made, but are not popular because of a tendency to warp quickly or react adversely to the weather.
International archery tournaments, including the Olympics, are held under rules established by the Federation Internationale de Tir a l'Arc, which is commonly referred to as FITA. A FITA round, which is the standard for tournaments, consists of six sets of six arrows each (a total of 36) at four target distances, or an overall total of 144 arrows.
Men shoot at target distances of 30, 50, 70, and 90 meters; women at 30, 50, 60, and 70. In Olympic competition and the world championships, two FITA rounds are shot, or a grand total of 288 arrows for each competitor. Scores are determined by where the arrows land in relation to 10 rings that appear on the target.
America's two best-known archers are Pace, the 1975 and 1979 world champion as well as the 1976 Olympic gold medalist, and McKinney, the 1977 and current world titleholder.
Pace, a 26-year-old electronics technician from Hamilton, Ohio, started archery when he was 14 years old after spotting an advertisement in a sports magazine.
McKinney, a 29-year-old college senior from Glendale, Ariz., is a five-time national champion. He is also the 50-meter world record holder with 345 points out of a possible 360, a mark he established in 1982. Rick got started in archery when his father found a bow in the back of a used pick-up truck he purchased.
For the first-time spectator, in fact for any spectator, archery watching makes sense only if he brings binoculars. Otherwise all he'll ever see is the archer's bow quiver at the moment of release. The sight of the arrow will be lost in flight and its target penetration, which sometimes occurs almost a football field away, completely missed.