Archery tournament design

Over the last couple of days, I switched on the TV in order to “jinx” two of India’s more promising archers in their respective games at the Olympics. On Monday evening, I switched on the TV to see R Banerjee (forget his first name) lose a close game in the round of 32. Yesterday, I watched Tarundeep Rai shoot well but still get well beaten by an absolutely in-form guy named Kim (from Korea, where else?). As I watched these matches, I was thinking about the nature of competition in archery.

Archery is a fundamentally single-player event. You are competing against yourself, and how well you do is not supposed to be affected by how well someone else does. There is no direct opponent you are playing against who tries to prevent you from scoring. In some ways, you can consider it to be similar to running. The only element of competition is the pressure that is exerted upon you be opponents competing simultaneously. In this context, it is indeed surprising that the archery event has been designed as a one-on-one knockout, like you would expect for a direct-opposition sport like tennis.

An event directly comparable to archery in terms of fundamentals is shooting – there again, there is no impact of one player on another’s performance but for the pressure exerted by means of simultaneous competition. Shooting, however, goes the “races” (running/swimming) way by means of having heats where only one’s absolute performance matters in terms of score matters (there is no limit on the number of the number of finalists from one heat; the best 8 or 10 participants across heats make it).

Then why is it that archery, which is fundamentally similar to these sports in terms of fundamental concepts, relies on head-to-head competition, and that too with no repechage? Yesterday, I watched Tarundeep Rai come up against an absolutely inspired Kim – Kim was in such imperious form that irrespective of how well Rai would have done he wouldn’t have qualified. Rai didn’t play badly, “against” any other opponent or on another day, he would have definitely done better. In a “direct combat” sport (such as tennis), one can point to the luck of the draw and similar matters. But in a distinctly non-combative sport such as archery why should artificial tournament standards be designed and that extra bit of luck be introduced?

I hope the archery administrators realize the stupidity of the curent format and move to one that is similar to what we see in shooting today.