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Olympic Archery Equipment - Does more expensive equipment mean better shots?
When it comes to archery experience, physical fitness / strength and skill matters more than equipment.
An archer who has using the same equipment for 20 years, regardless of the quality of the equipment, will be able to out-perform any amateur archer with the most expensive equipment you can find.
The experienced archer's body will be more finely tuned for the sport, they will know the power and limitations of their equipment and how to best use it, and their level of skill at aiming, controlling their breathing, being patient, etc. will all be dramatically improved over an archer who has been shooting for a year or less.
That said, what difference does more expensive equipment make?
#1. Lighter physical weight.
This means the archer will have to rely less on their endurance and strength over time as they get tired at the archery range at a slightly slower speed. The physical lower weight of the bow means they can hold their bow hand more steady while they are aiming, which means they will have a slight advantage at aiming.
However both of these drawbacks can be overcome if the archer has both a higher endurance and a higher strength. Both of which will be overcome if they train regularly.
#2. What about the poundage of the bow?
Poundage refers to the amount of torque (foot-pounds of pressure) needed to pull back the bow and aim. The poundage required to reach a full draw length varies with each bow and what is considered a full draw length depends on each person's arm length and where they anchor their arrow once fully drawn.
The amount of force used increases the arrow's speed, accuracy, distance, and even punching power.
In this respect Olympic recurve bows, traditional recurve bows and even long bows, short bows, etc all are the same. The force required to bend back a 30 lb Olympic bow is the same needed for a traditional bow of any other type.
The only difference is when it comes to compound bows. Compound bows pull back to a locking mechanism on a pulley. Once it reaches that point the amount of force needed to pull back the bow is reduced by 20 to 80% (varies depending on the type of compound bow). This means archers who use compound bows can hold their arms more steadily after it has locked into place - and it means they get a greater amount of torque going into their arrow shot, which is more important when doing hunting.
Olympic bows have a lot more gadgets on them. The extra gadgets basically act as crutches for people who lack the technical skill or strength to aim, hold the bow steady, and so forth. The gadgets help the inexperienced archer get a little bit more accuracy.
Example: One of the gadgets is a long rod that sticks to the front of the bow called a Stabilizer. It reduces vibrations in the bow during the time period when the arrow is being released from and passing by the arrowrest. The time period is only about 15 milliseconds, but the slight reduction in vibrations helps make the shot a little more accurate.
To the experienced archer however those gadgets are more of a nuisance however and completely unnecessary if they have honed their skill and their physical prowess.
#4. Reduced Vibrations
Having equipment that doesn't jerk around or "vibrate" as much helps when trying to aim and perform a shot. The more advanced materials used in making an Olympic recurve bow means that the bow vibrates slightly less than wood does. This means that the archer's shots will be slightly more consistent.
Sandwiched between the carbon fibre on bows' limbs is a synthetic foam core adapted from American naval submarines. This incompressible foam, made of evenly spaced glass micro-balloons, lets submarines dive further under water without getting crushed. It performs the same function in bows: When the bow is drawn, compressing the carbon skin, the foam maintains the limbs’ shape without vibrating the way wood does.
#5. Customizable Handgrips
The risers (handle region of the bow) allow you to customize the type of grip you are using. Much of this is personal preference, as some archers find they shoot better with slightly different grips. (In which case the most expensive grip is NOT necessarily the best one for you.)
#6. Lightweight Flexible Arrows
Arrows flex and vibrate as they fly towards the target 70 meters away in approx. one second. That one second is long enough for the wind to affect its flight, so arrow makers must carefully consider an arrow’s weight, stiffness, and shape.
The arrow company Easton uses a design with aluminum wrapped in carbon fiber to balance weight and stiffness with a thin narrow shaft. The smaller width size also means it is less affected by wind. The tapered end further diminishes the effect of wind, while allowing it to escape the bow more easily. The design has proven so successful, that every Olympic medalist since 1996 now uses only X10s.
Furthermore Easton makes 12 different versions of the X10, so archers can experiment with which arrows work best for them based on the weight of the arrow (which is measured in grains).
It costs between $400 and $600 for a dozen X10 arrows, depending on where you buy them. And depending on the store they only sell them by the dozen or by groups of 6.
So yes, if you're hoping to compete at the Olympics the more expensive equipment really does matter.
So how much does it cost to be an Olympic archer?
Aspiring to become an Olympic archer costs up to $25,000 annually in coaching, equipment, trips to competitions, etc. Success requires a rigorous work ethic of 250 to 1,000 shots a day, six days a week, plus a healthy diet, training in the gym and mental / breathing exercises.
Olympic archery equipment alone will cost you about $2,000 to $3,000 Canadian, depending on what you buy and where. eg. Shown below is a riser that costs $899.99.
Of course having the most expensive equipment doesn't guarantee you a spot at the Olympics. Only 64 men and 64 women compete at the Olympics every 4 years. The minimum age for an Olympic archer is 16, and there is no maximum age - and according to my research the oldest archers to ever compete at the Olympics were 48 (men's category) and 51 (women's category).
Enjoy the activity of shooting for its own sake. Don't worry about competitions because winning competitions don't really matter in the long run.
And don't worry about how expensive your equipment is. Just shoot for the sake of enjoyment and exercise.
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