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  IF A RECORD FALLS IN THE BRONX, AND NO ONE'S THERE TO SEE IT...  
   
   
 

Mary Zorn takes a last look at the target downfield, draws back her arrow, aims her bow high and allows gravity to level her shot.

The fluid, captivating, graceful motion is repeated endlessly, but made more impressive by Zorn, a 21-year-old from Illinois, who is tall and slender and serene in her bright blue USA shirt and matching visor. Zorn's sense of confidence and control beyond her years envelops her in practiced calm. Despite the sound and fury of the hundreds of archers shooting around her, Zorn is statuesque. The seconds tick by like minutes. The tension builds. And then she lets go.

The arrow whistles towards a target 50 meters downfield and lands with a thwack. It’s the second full day of competition and Zorn continues to dominate the entire world.

This cycle of tension and release was repeated thousands of times by Zorn and over 500 archers from around the world during the 42nd World Archery Championships, held last week in New York. The tournament, held every two years, draws teams from around the globe, giving it a distinctly Olympic feel, which is exactly why NYC2012 fought to hold the event here. Teams from Australia, Norway, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Ecuador and Korea. Heck, even a sparse team from Iraq showed up. And despite the fact the Iraqis did little to distinguish themselves in competition, the media recognized the irony that armed Iraqis were on the loose in the Bronx, and interviewed them constantly.

Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, a large area of weeds, broken glass and compacted dirt, played host to the five-day event. The juxtaposition was jarring. Holding an archery tournament in the Bronx is something akin to having a polo match in, well, the Bronx.

But if New York City is successful in its bid to play host to the 2012 Olympics, scores of similar situations will play out across all five boroughs. There will be judo at the Javits Center, gymnastics and trampoline at Madison Square Garden, equestrian events on Staten Island, rowing at Flushing Meadows and glorious team handball at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The people playing soccer, football or baseball at Van Cortlandt have been replaced by a line of archers stretching the length of over two football fields -- a group of people who can use the words “quiver” and “arrow” in the same sentence. The field was a symphony of snapping bow strings as the archers used their 240-second sessions to shoot as many arrows as they wished. Hundreds of arrows sailed 30, 50, 70 or 90 meters downfield, blitzing their targets. After each shot the archer peered into the spotting scope set up on a tripod by their side and got a better view of their handiwork. When time was up, the archers set down their bows and retrieved their arrows, serenaded by the sweet sounds of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” pumping from the PA system.

 
 

 

“Shot through the heart! And you're to blame, darlin' you give love a bad name.”

Unlike the Olympics, competition is split between two types of bows, the recurve and compound divisions. An Asian bow vendor with a limited mastery of English summed up the difference between the two brilliantly. “Recurve much much harder.”

Only the recurve bow is permitted in the Olympics. Picture a traditional bow, the kind Robin Hood or Cupid uses and you’ve got the idea. Recurves require the shooter to draw back the arrow and hold the weight steady before releasing the arrow. The compound bow, on the other hand, has a pulley and cable system that makes holding weight much easier. It is this mechanical advantage that prevents the


 
 

compound bow from being permitted in the Olympics, a subject of constant debate among archers.

“Over the next two days these guys will shoot a total of 144 arrows at four distances to qualify for the top 64 spots,” said Robert Romero, the U.S. compound coach. “The average draw for these bows is around 35 pounds. So, they lift a lot of weight over two days,” said Romero.

That would be 5,040 pounds to be exact, or what you'd feel after lifting a pair of 35-pound dumbbells 144 times in two days. “Over the course of a full tournament they’ll also walk about two miles. They’re definitely athletes,” said Romero.

After two days of qualifying rounds, the top 64 competitors in each division and gender are ranked based on score and placed in brackets. The remaining competition is shot at a target distance of 70 meters, where the archer's view of the bull's eye, called the X and worth 10 points, looks like the head of a thumbtack held at arm’s length. The field of 64 is then whittled down in head-to-head competitions to eight who advance to the final round. It takes four days of consistent shooting to be crowned champion.

The U.S. team is stacked with talent, particularly in the compound division. Dee Wilde is a five-time world champion in the compound division and shoots for the U.S. men’s team.

“I turned pro in 1986,” said Wilde. “Because I was pro I couldn’t compete in events like this until Michael Jordan came along, when they started letting pros in the Olympics. That was the year, 1993, I won my first world championship.”

Wilde’s son, Reo, is the current world indoor champion in the compound division and is also shooting for the U.S. team. Father and son shoot on their own line of bows, the Wildecat, produced by Martin Archery. Others on the team include Dave Cousins, a 25-time national champion and Braden Gellenthien, a 17-year-old, who won the 2003 indoor national championship.

And, of course, there's the cool and lithe Zorn, who is to archery what Mia Hamm is to soccer. Only two months earlier Zorn broke the 30-meter outdoor world record, shooting a perfect score of 360 in a storm. Zorn shot 36 arrows. Twenty-one hit the dead center, the rest landed within the smallest ring, from 30 meters away in the RAIN. According to the press release from that event the previous world record was also a score of 360, with 20 shots hitting the X. Coming into last week’s tournament Zorn had won five of six individual national titles in three years.

But nothing about her behavior on the second day of qualification gave the slightest clue of what she was in the process of doing.

A horn would sound, Zorn would have 20 seconds to take up her spot on the shooting line, then a second horn would sound, and Zorn would shoot three arrows in two minutes. After shooting, Zorn walked back to her chair, snacked on some cheese and carrots and waited for the results. Between shooting periods, Zorn chatted with her teammates and coaches about things unrelated to archery, then the horn would sound again, and Zorn stepped to shoot her next three arrows.

Zorn had won easily. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged among coaches, teammates and other competitors before official results were announced. The announcer confirmed not only Zorn’s win, but also the fact that over the course of two days Zorn had scored 1,399 points, a new world record.

With just one more point Zorn would have been the first woman to achieve a score of 1400. As in baseball, when no one will talk to a pitcher who is throwing a no-hitter, there had been no talk among her teammates or coaches that she was on pace to break a world record.

And there certainly wasn't any chatter amongst the dozen stragglers watching in the Bronx, most of which had no idea what they were looking at. But as the sounds of twenty hands clapping echoed over the field of broken glass and flying arrows, Zorn's façade of control cracked, and she smiled for the first time all day.

 

*BT*