By Peter Rutherford
LONDON (Reuters) - The primal thrill of holding a bow and striking a target has remained constant through archery's Olympic evolution and gold medalist Juan Carlos Holgado told Reuters it is the reason why so many people, including reporters, get hooked on the sport.
Holgado won team gold for Spain at the 1992 Barcelona Games and is now the events director for the sport's governing body (FITA). Currently he is preparing the iconic Lord's Cricket Ground for the competition at the London Games.
His role includes giving Olympic officials and other VIPs the opportunity to try the sport out first hand. On Thursday, reporters were given the chance to wield the Olympic-style recurve bow -- with mixed results.
Holgado's patient instruction could not prevent newbie errors as bows were held incorrectly, arrows were fumbled to the floor, and arms, backs and shoulders shook with poor form.
Some aimed too high. Others too low.
One aimed with the wrong eye.
After some painful practice several managed to hit the bulls-eye, resulting in puffed-up chests and ear-to-ear grins.
That was from 10 meters. Olympic archers shoot from 70.
The distance increased (by two meters) and arrows went awry. Chests deflated, smiles faded. Holgado offered words of encouragement.
"Even though these bows are not as hard to draw as the Olympians, it's still hard on the body and the mind to shoot more than a few arrows," he said.
"But look, people are still smiling. That thrill comes from childhood. When we were kids we were told not to throw stones, not to hit people with things like toy guns and bows and arrows. Even though inside we really wanted to.
"But this sport gives us the chance to do it -- now we get the chance to actually hit something!"
After the 1920 Games, archery was left off the Olympic Programme for 52 years but has enjoyed success since returning in Munich. The rules, format and equipment have changed dramatically since it debuted in 1900.
The sport got a shot in the arm at the Athens Games when it was held at the Panathinaiko Stadium.
"We have been so fortunate to get good venues, in Athens people came to see the venue and they got interested in archery," said Holgado.
"We stage world cup events at interesting places and that formula has worked for us.
"Lord's is one of the most iconic venues in sport but four years ago I didn't know what it was. I didn't know anything about cricket, when it came on television I changed the channel.
"But now I know what an honor and a privilege it is to be on this ground. People from all over the world's will come to see Lord's and they will discover our sport."
While a top-of-the-line bow could cost over $1,000 and arrows $600 for a dozen, Holgado said archery was not a sport just for the elite and it was much more accessible than people thought.
Changes to the Olympic format had made archery more spectator friendly, vital for television and sponsorship, while movies such as The Hunger Games, The Avengers and Brave had raised its profile to new highs.
"I hope Hollywood make more movies about bows and arrows," said Holgado. "It's great for our sport."
The archery competition at the London Games begins on Friday with the ranking round, where all 128 archers shoot 72 arrows to determine the draw. There are two individual and two team gold medals on offer.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)
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