Thursday, 28 April 2011

Olympic Countdown - Archery

There are 26 different sports being played at the 2012 Olympics. Some clearly have a greater link with sports vision than others, but few would have a greater reliance on vision than archery. Or so you would think.

When aiming in archery, it’s better to keep both eyes open as this helps balance. It’s harder to balance on one leg, for instance, if you’ve got one eye closed rather than both open. However, this does present a problem: something must be double.

If you point your finger at a distant object and concentrate on that object, you’ll see two fingers, the one on the left being the one that’s aligned with the right eye. And if you focus on your finger, you’ll see two objects, and this time it’s the one on the right that’s aligned with the right eye.

The other problem is that if you focus on your finger, the object will be slightly out of focus, and vice versa. In archery, the “finger” is a sight on the front of the bow. It seems to promote accuracy by focusing on the target, and having a slightly out of focus bow sight. You also need to make sure that it’s the left hand sight that you’re aligning, assuming that you’re using the bow right-handed.

I said that you’d think that excellent vision would be essential for any level of archery, but in fact some partially sighted or even blind archers can be remarkably accurate. How do they achieve this?

Well, they have two aids. One is a foot locator, which is a wooden frame, and against which they place their feet. It is built to the archer’s stance, which ensures that their feet are in exactly the same position each time. The other is a tactile sight, which consists of a fully-adjustable spring-loaded bar which touches some part of the archer’s hand when the bow is fully drawn. They also have a “spotter” who tells the archer the result of the shot, and helps with adjustments of the tactile sight.

This makes me wonder how care fully sighted archers take to ensure that their body position is exactly the same each time. At an elite level, a side-on video camera could relay picture onto a screen, then you simply subtract one image from the previous one to see if there’s been any change in position. I bet it would be a pretty good guide to the accuracy of the shooting.

Visually impaired archery is not currently an Olympic sport, but it is hoped that it will be by the 2016 Games.

David Donner