Archery competitions are the slim-fitting khaki cargo pants of the Olympics, unbelievably dorky precisely because the participants are eminently practical. Those of us who are unfamiliar with how the sport works—and I am, to be clear, an appreciative ignoramus—might expect things to be otherwise. Archery, after all, is the sport of Robin Hood. But watch for a few minutes, and those fantasies of heroism quickly fade.
Just check out the archers’ gear. Most of the competitors wear unflattering bucket hats, and complex harness systems awkwardly cosset their bodies. All of these garments presumably serve reasonable purposes—shielding the eyes and keeping the limbs straight and whatnot. But that focus on functionality drains any sense of style from the proceedings. That doesn’t change when the archers set up their shots, pressing taut bow strings up against their faces, compressing their noses and creasing their chins.
And then, in the time it takes an arrow to slice through the air, the sport looks impossibly cool. Seen in slow motion, the shafts vibrate as they arc along their course. The archers almost immediately drop their bows, and the weapons—still attached to their hands—swing down like scythes. It’s the perfect Olympic celebration, better by far than the smug finger-wagging we’ve seen in the pool, great in part because the athletes do it whether or not their shots hit the bull’s-eye. To watch an archer drop her bow at the Olympics is to watch an athlete who knows she’s good being good, no matter how dorky she looked while getting ready to do it.