Publish date:

Just call him the Man with the Golden Aim


So much for Robin Hood, William Tell, Geronimo and those guys. The storied romance of the bow and arrow is one thing, but when all the best archers assembled to shoot it out for the world title recently a lot of the glamour was gone and it turned out to be the sort of grimly serious contest that could shake the steadiest hand. A field of 155 archers from 26 countries came to Pennsylvania seeking the championship, and when it was all over, the winner—who had the sorest fingers in all sport—probably felt more like a survivor.

After four days of shooting, the new champion turned out to be tousled, handsome Hardy Ward (SI, Aug. 11), a 19-year-old Texan who has been at it since he was 12—and who now is the youngest ever to win the world target title.

The pressures started right away at Valley Forge State Park: shooters had to average 8½ points on each of 288 arrows. From the center of the target outward (archers never, but never, say bull's-eye), the rings are gold, red, blue, black and white—with scoring values ranging from 10 points down to one. On the first and third days of the contest, archers must shoot 36 arrows each from 90 and 70 meters, and on the second and final days, 36 arrows from 50 and 30 meters.

Ward packed his $250 bow and selected arrows and rode 1,450 miles from Mt. Pleasant, Texas to take on the world, bringing along a small cheering section that included his dad, one sister and one girl friend. First he pointed out he would rather not hear any of that old comedy routine about being a "straight arrow," please. The allusion was incorrect anyway, he said, since an arrow is shot at roughly 125 mph and is anything but straight—it bends two or three times before it hits home. All a matter of aerodynamics or—if one would permit the term—arrow dynamics. And with that, he settled down to work.

This world championship may have proved that archery is now a sport for the youngest and strongest. It also proved, as in many sports, that Americans tend to lead the field because they have the best, most modern equipment. Even though archery started in the old world, it is hard to beat the science of the new. From the start, Ward's toughest competition did not come from defending titlist Ray Rogers, 32, of Muskogee, Okla., or 1967 runner-up Ian Dixon of England, also in his 30s. Surprisingly, neither was in serious contention at Valley Forge. But close behind Ward from the beginning was John Williams, a gangly 15-year-old 145-pounder from Cranesville, Pa. Midway into the tournament, Ward had shot 1,220 points—breaking his own single round-world championship mark by 41 points—and discovered that he was leading Williams by only 15 points.

That sort of thing is enough to unnerve the calmest archer, but Ward claims never to suffer from nerves. What does bother him is the agony of three aching, swollen fingers on his right hand that pull the bowstring. Ward holds the string taut longer than anyone else in the game, until he is sure of his aim, and he is always a picture of concentrated agony.

On the third day Ward and Williams exchanged the lead four times until, finally, Ward managed a slim six-point edge after a dazzling display of shooting seven golds in nine attempts. It set the stage for a final-day confrontation. With just 15 arrows to go, Williams tied up the score. And then, with nine shots left, he took over a two-point lead.

The closing moments, with 3,000 spectators standing by quietly, were dramatic. Ward settled down and shot five golds in six attempts. It put him out front again by three points, with just three arrows to go. Next to last arrow, he drew back, steadied—and released it too soon. The crowd groaned in sympathy, and everybody checked the score. A seven. Then Williams stepped up, getting a 10 on his last shot. It put Ward in the uncomfortable position of needing at least an eight to become the world champion. He drew back and fired: a perfect 10-point gold. Final score was 2,423 to 2,420.

It was not until two days later that Harry Gilcrest, leader of the American team, revealed that Ward's win was even closer than the score had indicated. "On Ward's fourth arrow from the end," said Gilcrest, "the judge was getting ready to raise the red flag [indicating that Ward had taken longer than the allotted 2½ minutes to shoot three arrows]. He had been warned twice about taking too long, and it was awfully close."

Ward agreed. "I kept an eye on the judge," he said, "and one eye on the target, because I knew they were watching me. I was within the limit on the shot, though—because I was at full draw when I glanced at the judge and saw him start to lift the flag. My aching fingers were screaming for me to let go, but my mind told me to hold on before I shot."

With the women archers, Canada's Dorothy Lidstone won the title. The American men won in team play, of course, and the women's team championship went to Russia. When it was all over, everyone seemed agreed on one thing: it had been one of the tougher world tourneys. The humidity and heat were enough to stagger the entire field, and many of the spectators occasionally retreated to their parked cars, engines running and air conditioners turned on.

And what do visiting archers do to relax between rounds? They watch American television in their motel rooms, of course. And what do archers watch? Well, the Mongolians spent a great deal of time clicking the dials to find good, old cowboy movies. With reason. They wanted, one of them explained soberly, to root for the Indians.