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Technology putting Olympic archers on target for 2012

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How technology is helping Great Britain's archers improve their technique

By Nick Hope

To say Great Britain's archers were disappointing at the Beijing Games would be an understatement.

One fourth-place finish at the 2008 Olympics, where they had aimed to bring home two medals, represented a poor return on the near £3m investment, and was followed by an unsavoury internal spat about coaching methods.

Despite this under-performance, and unlike many of the smaller Olympic sports who had their budgets slashed in the build up to London 2012, archery subsequently saw its funding increase by nearly 60%.

And the British camp is now confident that seven English medals, including four golds, from the recent Commonwealth Games (albeit in the absence of the all-conquering Koreans) proves things are back on track.

"It was an excellent haul of medals for England," GB performance manager Barry Eley told BBC Sport.

"With England's archers making up most of the Great Britain's women's Olympic team it was great to see them right up there, as it was with Alison Williamson in the individual event where we hope to do well in London."

So where has this improvement come from?

How to achieve the perfect posture
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart at 90 degrees to the target
Place one finger above the arrow and two below
Shoulders must be in a line with the target
Keep the elbow on your aiming arm level with your shoulder as you raise the bow
Pull the arrow right back towards your chin
Focus your attention on the centre of the target
Release cleanly and confidently

Many within the Great Britain camp feel technology has played a pivotal role.

According to Eley, Archery GB invested a "sizeable amount" of their budget in new equipment which helps measure every aspect of an archer's technique.

"We use slow-motion cameras and special mats to analyse posture, balance and body movement, which gives us immediate feedback on optimum body position," said Oliver Logan, biomechanist from the English Institute of Sport.

"The technology also allows us to record the archers and watch them back on the computer frame-by-frame to ensure the bow and arrow set-up is optimised for competition."

Archers take aim from as far back as 70 metres, roughly the length of three tennis courts, at a target measuring just 122cm by 122cm - which from that distance looks no larger than your fingernail.

Of course there is even more to consider than simply aiming at the target.

Once released an arrow does not travel in a straight line but flies on a curved trajectory - rising then falling on its flight path to the target. Pulling the arrow backwards on the bow generates tension on the string - and the greater the tension then the straighter an arrow can potentially travel.

However, it is difficult for even elite archers to consistently achieve this whilst maintaining a steady hand. As such archers will often aim away from the centre to take into account this curved trajectory.

Olympic bronze medallist Alison Williamson explains the basics of archery

It is a calculation and action which becomes further complicated in outdoor events where wind variations make accuracy even more challenging. A few degrees of inaccuracy can result in not only dropping one or two points, but missing the target all together.

The multi-camera setup being used by the GB team detects movement in both the bow and the arrow with frame-by-frame analysis helping archers hone their technique.

"Just the slightest adjustment to one of the settings can make the difference between winning and losing, so this technology has been a really key development," Logan added.

Veteran Leicestershire-born archer Williamson, who won a bronze at the Athens Games in 2004, is bidding to compete at her sixth Olympics in 2012 and is perhaps best placed to judge just how influential these enhancements have been.

"We have benefitted hugely from the developments in technology. It has certainly evolved and the video play-back allows you to view your technique in a way that wasn't possible before."

"The facilities make a big difference. When I began training I had to wait for people [members of the public] to finish before we could practice, we now have our own training centre [in Lilleshall] which is just for our use.

After finishing fourth in the women's individual recurve event in Beijing, Williamson took an 18-month break from major competitions.

GB Archery
2010 Kalkomey Enterprises, Incorp. The recurve (top) bow uses less technology and is therefore considered more difficult than the compound bow

But she returned earlier this year and the 39-year-old proved that at she still has what it takes at the elite level by claiming two silver medals at this year's Commonwealth Games - only being denied gold in the women's individual event by India's 16-year-old sensation and world number one Deepika Kumar.

"The technology helps, it keeps things fresh and it's certainly good to access it when you need it, but I do think it's important to be self-reliant and be able to read the conditions and your equipment yourself."

"I'm still learning and take something new from every event so hopefully it will all come together and I will do well in 2012."

Williamson's Commonwealth collection aside, it is worth noting that England's other five medals all came in the compound event, which is not part of the Olympic programme.

Nicky Hunt won two gold medals in Delhi and is the current world number one in the women's compound, but she has ruled out a switch to the Olympic class recurve event.

"I've enjoyed a lot of success this year, but to be honest the switch would be difficult and I have probably left it a bit late," she said.

However Hunt is experiencing funding issues in her event.

How competitive archery works
Elite events such as the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics use a qualifying day to determine seedings
Competitors then go head-to-head - top seed facing bottom etc
Archers take aim at least 70 meters away from the target
Matches are either best of three or five sets
Each set consists of three arrows per archer, with each competitor shooting alternately to add to the intensity
The archer with the highest score after three arrows collects two points, with one each for a tie
The archer with the highest number of set points after three or five sets, wins
If points are level at the end of the allocated number of sets then a single-arrow shoot-off will determine the winner. The archer who shoots closest to the centre advances

Last month she told BBC Radio Suffolk that she needed £1,200 to represent her country at next year's European Indoor Championships in Spain.

Great Britain's Olympic head coach Lloyd Brown says he has tried to tempt her over to the other archery class.

"I've talked to her many times about it because she does have a form that would lend itself to the recurve style, but she's the best at what she does and it's difficult to change, we'll have to see," he said.

At present only Simon Terry, a double Olympic bronze medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Alan Wills and Naomi Folkard are ranked within the world's top 15 recurve archers.

However, UK Sport's commitment to £4.5m of investment through to 2012 has enabled Great Britain to fund six full-time archers on an Olympic programme.

In addition to Williamson, Wills, Folkard and Terry, this includes Charlotte Burgess and Larry Godfrey as well as a further 19 archers who form a part-time development team.

With that and their new technology, Archery GB say they have everything in place to achieve their minimum aim of one Olympic and five Paralympic medals at the London Games.

"Looking forward I think we're in a really good spot right now. With the facilities and the staffing we're ready to move forward with a strong performance in 2012," Lloyd added.



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see also
Delhi champ Hunt could miss Euros
27 Oct 10 |  Archery
Williamson secures archery silver
10 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games
England win three archery medals
09 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games
World Cup archery hits Edinburgh
19 Sep 10 |  Archery


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