Easy target
With the mind more at play than the body, archery is the ideal game for us, say experts
By Sachie Fernando
Mankind has been associated with the bow and the arrow since the days of the hunter-gatherer, with archery later developing into a fine art. Archery as a sport was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1999, with the man behind the idea being Commander H.U. Silva, formerly of the Navy, being considered "the father of modern archery" here. With the support of National Olympic Committee President Hemasiri Fernando and coach Kesara Serasingha, the Colombo Archery Club (CAC) was opened with just five members at that time.

Four years on, archery in Sri Lanka has come a long way, with the greatest triumph being achieved by 22-year-old Nimantha Fernando, a CAC member, when he qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Nimantha passed the qualifying score of 1200 at the 13th Asian Games in Myanmar, this year.

Gua Bei, Head of the International Judges in Archery and Director for Sports Administration in Shanghai, has hailed Sri Lanka as the first country in the history of archery to achieve Olympic standards in just four years.

Unfortunately, Nimantha was unable to take part in the Olympics because only the top 64 archers from those who qualify from all over the world actually go on to the Olympics. Nimantha’s world rank was 157 and Asian rank was 49.

Nimantha, for whom archery has been a passion for two and a half years, says, "This is the ideal game for Sri Lankans whose bodies aren't built for games like football or rugby. In archery, it's the power of the mind.”

But once you become a good player, he believes, it's hard to become the finest and break the barrier between the good and the best. "One requires a great amount of patience to maintain the dedication needed."

Today the world of archery is dominated by the Koreans and most record-holders come from Asia. This is one reason why archery is considered suitable to Sri Lankans.

Since 1999, 10 archery clubs, including the Uva AC, Race Course AC, Dambana AC, Nalanda College AC, Army AC, Navy AC, Air Force AC and Police AC, have sprung up across the country. Their membership comprises more than 200 active archers with the numbers increasing each year.

Nalanda College is the only school to have an archery club and hold an archery competition at its annual sports meet while the Dambana Club is unique with the Veddahs testing their skills in archery.

The first formal archery competition was held in Sri Lanka in 2000 and saw 40 archers taking part. Today more than 200 archers take part in this competition. Every club holds an annual meet and all the contestants gather in Colombo for the national competition held every year.

The nationals conducted at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium is the toughest competition where new talent in marksmanship is spotted and rewarded. This year 17-year-old Krishalika Kaluarachchi, a student of Bandarawela Kuda Kusum Balika MV from Uva AC beat all novices at the Nationals.

"While archery equipment plays an important part in performance, the major factor is talent," says coach Kesara giving instances of experts performing brilliantly with basic equipment. "Talent beats all other aspects."

According to proponents, archery is different to other sports. It is a sport of leisure, more like meditation. It's a battle between the player and his mind. "Eighty percent of the results come through mental capability and 20% from physical ability. It's a way of defining yourself. Performance comes through self-analysis," says Kesara. "In this game there is nothing to be sad or feel bad about. It's your game and your achievement. The player himself rewards himself by performing better today than yesterday."

To become the best, Kesara says, an archer needs dedication, practice, a passion for the sport and resources. Archers agree that it is an easy sport to enjoy and achieve good results. Once you join, archery becomes incredibly addictive. The age limit for archery can vary from 8 to 80. The oldest person to win an Olympic medal was an archer.

"Anybody can shoot a dinner plate from 12m by the third day of practice," assures Kesara. "A new archer is like a rough diamond, priceless but needs to be cut to see its brightness." That is his job. "I am supposed to find talent in the players and make them reach their potential."

Competent coaches handle the training at the clubs and with support from the National Olympic Committee 30 Lankan coaches have been trained at two national level camps. There are dangers in engaging in archery, like in any other sport, but they can be overcome by taking safety measures. "That's why the first lesson on archery is on safety rules," says Kesara.

To those who haven't tried this sport, the message from Kesara is: "Try shooting a few arrows. You'll never know if there is a hidden talent."

Take a bow - and arrow
The main equipment needed for archery is a bow, arrows and a target. The bow consists of three main parts - the riser, the two limbs and the bow string. The riser is the central part where the grip is located, while the two limbs are mounted on its tips. The elasticity and strength of the two limbs give the arrow a controlled flight.

The bowstring passes through the limbs at the tip and is stretched over the whole body of the arrow. An adjustable sight and stabilisers are fitted to the riser. The bow weight and the arrow length are decided according to the potency and the draw length of the player. The alignment of the bow is very important so as it is to adjust the sight correctly.

The arrow consists of a metal point at the front of the shaft, which aids it to pierce through the target. The plastic fletching at the back of the arrow allows a good flight. At the end of the shaft is a knock, to enable the arrow to be placed on the string.

The target consists of the face, the surface on which the 'rings' are printed and the buttress, the layer in which the arrow lodges. The face with the buttress is mounted on a target stand in such a way that the centre of the target stands 1.3m above the ground.

An archer would also need a quiver to carry the arrows, a finger tab to protect the fingers when drawing the bow, an arm guard and a chest guard for protection. Those interested in finding out more about archery could contact the archery school at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium, where a coach will give details about basic lessons.

The CAC provides basic equipment for beginners. "Afterwards, it's the flair in you, which will decide the path ahead," says Kesara.

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