Welcome to the Gawker Guide to the Obscure Olympic Sports You Have Never Heard Of Or Given A Damn About. First up: Archery—the 14th Most Important Olympic sport and apparently not just for summer day camps!
What the hell is going on here?: Men and women shoot at targets using bows and arrows. There are four events: men's and women's individual, and men's and women's team. The archers shoot from a distance of 70 meters, or about 230 feet, or about three-quarters of an American football field.
In early rounds for individual events, used for ranking, the archers stand very still and, almost casually, shoot 72 arrows (six groups of 12 arrows at a time) at a bullseye. The best score you can get on a single shot is a 10; a perfect score in a full round is a 720. Once the rankings are final, the 64 competitors move onto the Olympic round, where they face off head-to-head (No. 1 against No. 64, and so on) until most of the field has been eliminated. In this round, archers shoot five sets (three arrows each); they get two points for winning a set and each get a point for tying a set. The first archer to six points advances.
To its credit, however, archery deals with ties in the coolest way possible: sudden death. If two archers are deadlocked at five points apiece after five sets, then they each get a single arrow to shoot. Whoever is "closest to the center of the target" wins the match.
If a country has three archers competing individually, then the country can qualify for team competition. Once ranked as a group, those three archers will go head-to-head against other countries, shooting 27 arrows (three groups of nine arrows, three arrows per teammate) in a match.
For some reason that I cannot fully understand and likely never will, archers are really into bucket hats.
Cool reference to bring up during broadcast to impress your friends if you have any: Say, "Did you know that The Hunger Games has made archery cool? The U.S. archery team's Twitter page has nearly 3,000 followers now!" Then laugh, because you are a cold-hearted bastard.
Your prepackaged heartstrings/oh-no-he-didn't storyline: Oh boy. Some good ones to choose from.
- Brady Ellison. Ellison, a 23-year-old from Glendale, Ariz., is the top-ranked archer in the world and a member of the top-ranked U.S. men's team. As a kid, he had to wear leg braces for a year to cope with Perthes disease. If archery makes it on-air, expect a video montage with old family photos and a brief spell of piano music. You will tear up, because NBC owns your soul.
- Im Dong-Hyun. Im is 25 and legally blind and an Olympic athlete for South Korea. He has myopia—20/100 vision in his right eye, 20/200 in the left. He refuses to wear corrective lenses or glasses when he competes. LET US REPEAT, THE DUDE IS BLIND. Here is how Im excels at what seems like an impossible task:
Instead, Im has learned to "feel" each shot with his body, training his muscles to be phenomenally consistent in lining up his shots, drawing back the bow and releasing his arrows.
"Archery requires very sensitive muscles," he said. "I used to play football at school, and I enjoyed really physical sports, but I now try to avoid any sports that might build up different muscles. That might have a negative impact on my archery."
Relevant inspirational video: Oh, hey, here's a blind person scoring a bullseye at the 2010 Archery World Cup and advancing to the finals! Carry on.
Sport rating: 3. No physical exertion aside from the power to stand very still, and no sweat, unless the sun is beating down on your bucket hat and you just can't take it anymore.
Nerd rating: 8. See Hunger Games reference as "cool" factor above.
Where you can watch it: As with other relatively obscure Olympic sports, you'll have the best luck finding live coverage online. Otherwise, look for NBC Sports Network on your cable lineup. If you have it then you'll have archery for days. Check out NBC's schedule (sortable by sport) for full coverage.