Archery At The Olympics: Full Review From Then To Now

In this article, you will be able to learn about: 

  • The history of archery at the Olympic Games 
  •  Why archery was removed from the Olympic programme 
  • The age limit for archery at the Olympic Games 
  • Oldest and youngest archers
  • The most successful nation in archery 
  • Top medalling countries and individuals 
  • How archery works at the Olympic Games 
  • How a nation qualifies for the Olympic Games 
  • How to qualify to shoot at the Olympic Games in USA
  • How successful USA have been at Olympic Games
  • How you can get started in archery 

History of archery at the Olympic Games

Archery is one of the oldest Olympic sports, debuting in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, France, where only men competed. The competition lasted for 44 days with six individual and five team target events. Along with two events for popinjay and six events for crossbow. 

Women were introduced to the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900. But they were not allowed to compete in archery until 1904, where men and women both competed in the event. The Games did only include archers from the USA and was hosted in St Louis.

Photo Credit: The Guardian. Women competed in the 1908 London Olympic Games.

The sport disappeared from the agenda after the 1908 London Olympic Games. There were fifty-seven archers from three nations that participated in archery at these Games.  In 1920, in Belgium, thirty archers from three nations participated in archery in the Games.

Archery disappeared again from the programme until 1972, when FITA (now known as World Archery) requested the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reintroduced archery into the Olympic Games’ agenda. 

The round shot at this Olympic Games was a FITA round. It consisted of 36 arrows shot at 90, 70, 50 and 30 metres for men and 70, 60, 50 and 30 metres for women. Much like today, the two furthest distances for both men and women were shot on a 122-centimetre target face and the two closest distances on an 80-centimetre target face. To be crowned Olympic Champion, the archers participated in a double FITA round and their cumulative score for both rounds. 

Since then, the International Olympic Committee has accepted archery as a core Olympic sport, meaning it is always on the Summer Programme. There are currently 32 of these core sports.  

Flash forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the most technologically advanced archery Olympic competition. During the Games, heartbeat monitoring was used to give even more statistics to the viewers. 

The archers’ heart rates were monitored using cameras. The data was relayed to the production team who then produced the graphics for onscreen heart monitoring.

Along with that, a system called RyngDyng, developed by Archery Analytics, was used to measure arrow hits with remote cameras. These cameras sent a live result to the in-venue scoreboards, with graphics displayed on television broadcasts.

Photo Credit: World Archery. The RyngDyng system by Archery Analytics.

There are three cameras at different angles below the target. These cameras triangulate the impact point of an arrow, which then assigns a score value within a second of the arrow hitting the target.

Why was archery removed from the Olympic Games?

Archery has not always been in the Summer Olympic programme. But why? 

When archery was first competed in at the Olympic Games, the home nation would create the rules and regulations that were followed in competition. This was allowed at the time as there weren’t any standardized competition rules as World Archery did not exist at this point. 

When a sport has inconsistent rules every four years, it makes it very hard to be able to train and prepare for the competition. Going into a competition that favours certain people does not sound all that fun. So going into an Olympic Games that is favoured towards the home nation, really did not entice other countries and their athletes. 

This is why the IOC did not keep archery in the summer programme and it was removed from the Olympic Games.  

However, when World Archery (previously known as FITA) was created in 1931, this allowed for universal rules and regulations to be brought into place. The original members of World Archery were Italy, France, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. 

The creation of World Archery/FITA meant that archery competitions had rules and the IOC could see reasoning for allowing archery to be in the Olympic Games again. So, after 52 years, archery returned to the Olympic Games in 1972.

What is the age limit for archery at the Olympics?

There is no age limit for archery at the Olympic Games. With the women’s Olympic Champion, An San, aged 20 and the men’s Olympic Champion. Mete Gazoz aged 22, it proves that age is just a number. In the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the youngest athlete was just 16 years old.

Photo Credit: World Archery. Ricardo Soto competed in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games at age 16.

There is also no upper age limit to be able to be an Olympic archer. As long as an archer can shoot the minimum required score, and qualifies either as a team or individual in the quota competitions, they can shoot at the Olympic Games.

With no age limit in archery, it’s your time to get started! Contact ArcheryUP now to get started!

Oldest and youngest Olympic archers

Between 1896 and 2016, archers ranged from 14 years old to 71 years old. Thomas Scott, who represented the USA at archery in the 1904 Games, was 71 years old. This makes him the oldest archer at an Olympic Games. The youngest was Denise Parker, also representing the USA. She shot in the 1988 Games, winning bronze in the team event. 


Eliza Pollock shot in the 1904 Olympic Games and won a gold and two bronze medals at the age of 63. The 1908 women’s double national Olympic Champion, Queenie Newall, is the oldest gold medallist in Olympic history. She was 53 when she won the Champion title.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia. Eliza Pollock shot in the 1904 Olympic Games.

2016 Rio Olympic Games saw Ricardo Soto competing at the age of 16. He was the youngest archer to compete at those Games. In the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (held in 2021), there was a broad age range. Korean archer Kim Je Deok, who ranked first in qualification, was just 17 years old.  

The average age of an archery Olympic medallist is 25 years old. Since 1984, all individual gold medallists have been 31 years old and younger. That’s not to say that over 31 year olds do not medal, statistics just say that they are more likely to medal in the team round than individually. 

Butch Johnson was 41 years old when he made his Olympic debut. He won gold in the men’s team event in 1996. Then went on to win bronze in the team in 2000 at age 45 and also made the team in 2008 at the age of 53. 

So, what are you waiting for? You could be the next Olympic archery Champion! Get in touch with ArcheryUp and start your journey in archery today!

Which nation is the most successful in the Olympics?

 Unlike a lot of other sports, archery has a clear answer here. South Korea. 

South Korea has the most successful archers and is the leading nation at the Olympic Games. 

During the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, South Korea took four out of the five gold medals. Only the men’s individual title wasn’t won by the powerhouse nation. 

It is often questioned how South Korea is so good at archery.

Photo Credit: World Archery. The South Korean Recurve Men’s Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Archery is practiced in primary school for about two hours a day as part of the curriculum. Through school, the children will work closely with coaches to progress through high school and college. This is how there is such a deep pool of elite archers within South Korea. After high school and college, they will look to being professional archers and shooting for teams, to then make the international team.

Once they make the elite level, archers will be training for about 10 hours a day. Shooting 2500-plus arrows in a week. There is a lot of mental prep that goes into training as well, so that is on top of the physical archery training and gym work that is required.

During the South Korean trials for the Tokyo Olympics, the National Governing Body for Korean archery (Korea Archery Association (KAA)), built a replica of the Olympic venue, Yumenoshima Park Archery Field. They even found somewhere that would have similar wind conditions to Yumenoshima Park. 

While the team were preparing for the Games, they would train on the purpose-built venue so they could practice and train in the Olympic-like environment. This helped a lot when the team got to the venue as they knew what to expect to a better degree than other nations.

Top Medalling Countries in archery at Olympic Games

For archery in the Olympic Games, there are two medal tables. The 1900-1920 and the 1972-present tables.  

In any given year from 1900-1920, the medals were contested by three nations at most. The host nation would dominate, with numbers and medals won.

The top five countries in the archery medal table from 1900-1920 are: 

  1.     Belgium – 11 gold, 6 silver, 3 bronze with a total of 20 medals 
  2.     United States – 6 gold, 6 silver, 6 bronze with a total of 18 medals 
  3.     France – 5 gold, 10 silver, 6 bronze with a total of 21 medals 
  4.     Great Britain – 2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze with a total of 5 medals 
  5.     Netherlands – 1 gold, with a total of 1 medal

Many people are aware that South Korea is the leading nation on the international archery circuit and in the modern-day Olympic Games. The US is ranked second on the Olympic medal table for archery and Italy in third. 

The top five countries in the archery medal table from 1972 are:

  1.     South Korea – 27 gold, 9 silver, 7 bronze with a total of 43 medals 
  2.     United States – 8 gold, 5 silver, 3 bronze with a total of 16 medals 
  3.     Italy – 2 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze with a total of 9 medals 
  4.     China – 1 gold, 6 silver, 2 bronze with a total of 9 medals 

5.     Soviet Union – 1 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze with a total of 7 medals

Top medalling individuals in archery at Olympic Games

The top five most decorated individuals in archery at the Olympic Games are solely South Korean archers. 

  1.     Kim Soo-nyung
  2.     Park Sung-hyun 
  3.     Ki Bo-bae
  4.     Yun Mi-jin
  5.     An San 

They are also all women.

Photo Credit: World Archery. Kim Soo-nyung competing at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

How does archery work at the Olympic Games?

For the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, there were 128 archers who competed. There was an even split of 64 men and 64 women competing for the individual Olympic Champion titles. The teams were made up of 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams. Out of the 29 mixed teams, only the top 16 of those teams progressed to the elimination rounds after qualification. 

Each archer shot a 72-arrow ranking round at 70 metres on a 122cm target face. Arrows are shot in ends of six, so it takes around two hours to shoot the six-dozen round. 

The cumulative score of each archer’s WA720 round gives a seeding for elimination matches, ranking highest to lowest.

Photo Credit: USA Archery. Casey Kaufhold marking the target during competition.

If an archer is part of a qualified team for the Olympic Games, their score and ranking will affect their nation’s team and mixed team seeding for elimination matches. Teams are ranked on all three archers scores from the ranking round. There is a maximum of 2160 points available for the team ranking round (3 times 720). Mixed teams are made up of the highest man and highest woman’s ranking from one nation. The maximum points available for a mixed team is 1440 (2 times 720). 

Once the ranking round is completed and the elimination seedings have been produced, match play takes place. Elimination seedings work with highest ranked against lowest and continue down. For example 

      #1 seed v #64 seed

      #2 seed v #63 seed 

      #3 seed v #62 seed

And so on until the Olympic Champion is crowned. 

The 2020 Olympic Games took place over a full week. The week started with qualification on Friday 23 July, followed by mixed team finals on Saturday, women’s team finals on Sunday and men’s team finals on Monday. Tuesday through until Thursday were the individual elimination matches.  

Elimination matches for individuals consist of each archer shooting three arrows to make a set. Each set won gives two points, a drawn set is one point, and a lost set is no points. The archer that gets to six points, wins. When an archer wins a match, they progress through to the next stage of elimination matches and meet their next opponent for the next match.

Photo Credit: World Archery. The archery competition field at Tokyo 2020.

If a tiebreak occurs if an individual match is five all, a one arrow shoot off happens. The arrow closest to the middle, wins and progresses onto the next match. 

Team rounds consist of 2 arrows each per end with a maximum of 60 points per end, with 24 arrows shot. Mixed team is 2 arrows per archer per end, with a maximum of 40 points per end and 16 arrows shot. The matches are still on a points system, the first team to get five set points wins. Again, a tiebreak occurs if the same score is achieved after the allotted arrows are shot.

How do nations qualify for the Olympic Games?

Each Olympic Games sport has a limited number of athletes that can qualify to compete. Archery has 128 spots available, 64 men and 64 women. In order to qualify for quota spots, nations must compete in specific qualification international events. 

The qualification period can run from about two years prior through to just a few weeks prior to the Olympic Games. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were the first Games to have the mixed team title contested for. This gave an extra avenue for qualification for nations.  

For the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, there were a few ways for nations and individuals to qualify quota spots. Let’s have a look at how this was possible.

With 64 spaces available per gender, nations and individuals could qualify by:

      28 places were available at the 2019 World Archery Championships through eight teams and four individual places. 

      8 places were available at Continental Games through five mixed team, top individuals in Asia, Europe, and Americas. 

      13 places were available at continental qualifying competitions 

      10 places were available at final qualifying competition

      3 places were for the host country, Japan 

      2 universality invitations. 

In June 2019, the World Archery Championships the largest amount of quota spots available for qualification took place. The top eight teams in both men and women won spaces during the qualifying competition. Along with this, the top four individuals from any nation that had not already qualified team spots won spaces.  

The Continental Games included the Pan American, European Games, African and Pacific Games in 2019. The Pan American and European Games spots available were for the top-ranked mixed team and individual that had not already qualified through another avenue for their country. 

The African and Pacific Games spots were for the top-ranked mixed team that had not already qualified through another method. In the circumstance where a country has already qualified one a quota spot in one of the two genders, the additional gender spot if awarded. The duplicate gender place is then transferred to the individual event. 

Between Summer 2019 and Spring 2020, Continental Events took place around the world. Each continent held continent-specific qualifying competitions for countries that had not won any quota spots at that point. Each continent had a different amount of spots available: 

  • Europe – 4
  •  Asia – 3
  • Americas – 3 
  •  Africa – 2
  •  Oceania – 1 

In the final couple of months in the run up towards Tokyo 2020, there were final qualification competitions. These were for nations that had not qualified quotas to compete in. If a nation had not qualified a team quota, they could compete in the team competition. Individual competition was open for those nations without individual spots.  

In order to qualify, the top three teams at the end of the qualification competition win the quota spots. If the nation already has any individual quota spots, they are returned. For the individual quota spots, initially there is only one quota spot available. However, there are usually quota spots returned throughout the qualification process, resulting in the top-ranked individuals winning spots. 

The final way of getting spots is through the Universality Spaces. This process is done to help support sport development and equality in countries that have been identified by the International Olympic Committee. Every Olympics has this process to help progress the competitive ambitions of emerging sporting nations. There are two places available through this process.

How qualification works for USA Archers

The US Archery Team (also known as the USAT), was established in 1982. The squad consists of the top eight ranked archers from the season. Each archer gets ranking points from each trial event they participate in, creating the rankings for the year.  

For the 2020 Olympic Games, there were four trial events that needed to be attended. The first of the events was open to anyone who registered and was eligible through the Olympic Selection Procedure. As long as an archer is a US National, and holds a current, valid passport, and they can meet the minimum International Olympic Committee standards, they are eligible to participate.

Photo Credit: USA Archery. The men’s squad during Olympic Trials 2021.

The trials consisted of ranking rounds, the WA720 72 arrow around at 70 metres. Followed by team round simulations, head-to-head elimination matches, and round robin matches. Each trial gave a total accumulated point amount for each archer. That determined a final ranking. 

In regard to selecting the team after the trials for each Games, it depends on how many quota places the USAT secured during qualification. If the USAT secured three spots, then the top three archers in the rankings will be nominated to the US Olympic Team. Fourth place will be nominated as the alternate for the team. 

 If only one quota space is secured during qualification, the top archer in the rankings would be nominated for the Olympic Team.  

Not only does an archer need to participate in the trials and come out on top, but they also need to be able to shoot to a Minimum Qualification Standard. This is set by World Archery and the International Olympic Committee. For the 2020 Olympic Games, male recurve archers were required to shoot 640, and women 605 on a WA720 70 metre round. This also needed to be achieved after June 10, 2019.

How much success has the USA had in archery at the Olympics?

In recent years, the USA Archery Team has had a lot of success at the Olympic Games. Since the 1972 Games, there have been seven individual medals for the USA and five team medals for men. The women’s side has been dominated by South Korea, leaving the USA with just two medals individually and one in the team event. 

USA are currently sat second on the medal table for the modern archery competition at the Olympic Games (since 1972). The nation has 16 medals, 8 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze.

Photo Credit: Toledo Blade. Brady Ellison, Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie silver team medalists at London 2012.

Here is a list of individual medals won by male USA archers:

      1972 – John Williams – Gold 

      1976 – Darrell Pace – Gold 

      1984 – Darrell Pace – Gold & Richard McKinney – Silver 

      1988 – Jay Barrs – Gold 

      1996 – Justin Huish – Gold 

      2000 – Vic Wunderle – Silver 

      2016 – Brady Ellison – Bronze 

The two female USA archers that have won an individual medal are: 

1972 – Doreen Wilber 

1976 – Luann Ryon

In the team event, USA have had a lot of success as well: 

1988 – Jay Barrs, Richard McKinney, Darrell Pace – Men’s Team Silver 

1988 – Deborah Ochs, Denise Parker, Melanie Skillman – Women’s Team Bronze

1996 – Justin Huish, Butch Johnson, Rod White – Men’s Team Gold 

 2000 – Butch Johnson, Rod White, Vic Wunderle – Men’s Team Bronze 

2012 – Brady Ellison, Jake Kaminski, Jacob Wukie – Men’s Team Silver 

2016 – Brady Ellison, Zach Garrett, Jake Kaminski – Men’s Team Silver

How do I get started in archery?

ArcheryUP is the perfect place to start archery. With over 3500 archery instructors around the country, there is no better time to get started. 

You can be 3 or 93 to shoot a bow, there is no age limit. You don’t even need to have tried archery before to get in contact with us. We are here to work with all abilities to help improve your archery accuracy, understanding and power. In your lessons with ArcheryUP, you will learn the right technique to be able to shoot a bow. 

There are no barriers to getting started in archery. We can travel to you, bringing all of the equipment and targets to get you started and on your archery journey! We will personalise and tailor the lessons to what you require and need. 

So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with us now and get started!

Quick facts about archery at the Olympic Games

  • During the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony was lit by a flaming arrow. The arrow was shot by Paralympic archer Antonia Rebollo, from Spain. 
  • The Seoul 1988 Olympic Games had the most archery competitors with 146 from 41 nations. 
  • South Korea has won the men’s team title six times out of nine since 1988.
  • South Korea has won every women’s team title since 1988.  
  • Competition arrows fly 2.5 times faster than a sprinting cheetah. 
  • The 10-ring on an Olympic target face is 12.2 centimetres across. 
  • Archery was the first Olympic sport to allow women to compete. 
Mimi Landstrom

I have shot since the age of 7, after starting archery at a summer camp. As a junior I won National and county titles, whilst breaking county records throughout the years. As a senior, I still compete at a national level and travel to compete at the Indoor World Series.  After university I went to Summer Camp in Pennsylvania, Camp Westmont. I taught summer to all ages throughout the summer and loved every second!  Being able to stand on the shooting line and have myself, my bow and arrow is my idea of heaven. It’s peaceful, calming and an escape from work and life stresses.