Gold is the target for 'glorified darts'

It is one of the oldest pursuits and Team GB have a real veteran to help young sharpshooter

From William the Conqueror to Apache braves, the use of bows and arrows is among man's most long-established pursuits. Yet the sport of archery has not had the British public all of a quiver despite its Robin Hood romanticism.

It dates back competitively to the Middle Ages, while the first Grand National Archery meeting was held at York in 1844. Many of today's clubs had their beginnings on the country lawns of Victorian England, although archery did not make the Olympics in its modern form until 1972.

What publicity it has received here is largely down to Alison Williamson, five times an Olympian and a bronze medallist in Athens. The only time archery got the tabloid treatment was when the Shropshire lass took her top off in 1996, posing with a strategically placed bow and arrow for photographs displayed in the National Portrait Gallery.

She is Britain's all-time best performer in a career which has seen her claim individual world silver in 1999 and Olympic bronze in 2004, as well as a world team bronze in 2007 and – very nearly – an Olympic team bronze in Beijing, where they were beaten by France to third place.

Now the 40-year-old former primary school teacher is aiming for a historic sixth Games in London. And Amy Oliver, 17 years her junior, is on course to make her Olympic debut – both alongside and against her mentor.

Oliver, from Rotherham, won a bronze with the mixed team at the World Archery Championships in Turin and, with Williamson and Naomi Folkard, a Commonwealth Games team silver in Delhi. She is a regular in the women's recurve team and, like Williamson, comes from an archery family.

What does archery mean to you both?

Williamson: For me it's everything. I have had to give up a lot but if I had done something else, I would have ended up scratching my head and saying to myself: "What am I doing? I could have been at the Olympics."

Now I'm full-time and Lottery-funded, and grateful for that. With some sports, the older you get the more difficult it becomes, but that's not so with archery. Experience counts for a lot. I react very differently now to the way I did when I was 18 or 20. I am not sure how long I will go on but Rio 2016 certainly sounds attractive.

Oliver: I had my first archery lesson at the age of seven but I didn't really like it because it seemed more a boys' sport. I liked ballet and stuff. When I was 16 I decided to try it again and I got the bug. Since then it's always been archery, even though I have sacrificed a lot. I virtually live out of a suitcase and don't see my family or my partner James that often.

But they know how important this is for me. You are always striving to hit the 10 and make a perfect shot, and when you do it's an adrenalin rush. Quite addictive. Mind you, I do get a lot of jokes about it. People always ask if I am related to Maid Marian or if I could shoot an apple off their head.

What are your hopes for 2012?

Williamson: It is my dream to make my sixth Olympics so I have had to train really hard. I'm hoping we can at least get a team medal but the competition will be challenging. The sport is more athletic now and the level of professionalism higher. The image is different too. I am sure some people used to think of it as glorified darts

Oliver: Archery isn't a very big sport compared with some others, but it will become much more popular after 2012 if we win some medals. Not many usually watch archery but the fact that it is taking place at Lord's will give it a much higher profile and I hope people say: 'Wow, look how exciting it is. Look at those arrows fly.'

How strong is your rivalry?

Williamson: It is certainly a healthy one. Seeing Amy's energy helps motivate me and keeps me young. She's a great talent with tremendous potential but I'm not going to be pushed out just yet!

Oliver: Alison is an inspiration to me. I'm her biggest fan. You can't imagine the respect I have for her. She has so much experience and listening to her stories helps me with my own competitions. She is so generous with her knowledge and she has this infectious laugh. When she won her Olympic medal I didn't actually watch because I was five, and too busy with my majorettes and things like that. But being one of her competitors now is just incredible. She is a true legend. I want to be like Alison, and I hope one day someone is going to be looking at me saying: "I want to be like Amy Oliver."

Williamson aims to make it six of the best at home of cricket

Britain is assembling a quiver-full of potentially world-class archers in both recurve (the Olympic discipline) and compound, which this time is in the Paralympics, writes Alan Hubbard. The difference is in the type of bow, with compound archers using a pulley rather than the string. These days bows are hi-tech and made of aluminium or carbon fibre with stabilisers, sights, an arrow rest and grips, and they cost upwards of £1,000. The layman may call the 50 pence-sized circle in the target the bull's eye, but to the archer it is the gold, the ultimate aim.

The golden shots

William Dod and Queenie Newall won gold for Britain when archery was briefly introduced at the London Games of 1908 (the sport was among the first to allow women) but since its return in 1972 it has proved an elusive target for the 35,000 who belong to the Grand National Archery Society.

GB's shooting stars

There are more than two strings to Britain's bow. Apart from Williamson and Oliver, Naomi Folkard and Nicky Hunt are also strong contenders for the women's trio (who also compete as individuals), while the experienced Alan Wills, Simon Terry and Larry Godfrey are likely to comprise the men's. GB are coached at Lilleshall by the former US Olympic coach Lloyd Brown; he replaced Peter Suk of South Korea, now archery's most successful nation.

It's not cricket

At Lord's (the venue for the Games) the competitors will fire from the pavilion end towards the media centre at a target about the length of three cricket pitches away. Their main worry will be the wind which, according to Williamson, can makes things very tricky. So can the crowd. "At the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, many spectators had never seen the sport before and some were making a noise when archers were shooting, which is a bit like shouting when tennis players are serving," she said.

Six hits at Lord's?

If Williamson is selected it will be a remarkable feat. Only two other Britons have competed at six Olympics: javelin thrower Tessa Sanderson, who won gold at her third Games in 1984; and fencer Bill Hoskyns, who competed from 1956-76, winning two silvers. Is there a worthier candidate to carry the flag at the opening ceremony?

The British Olympic Association are the national Olympic committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare the “Best of British” athletes for, and lead them at, the summer, winter and youth Olympics, and deliver extensive support services to Britain’s Olympic athletes and their national governing bodies to enhance Olympic success. Go to olympics.org.uk

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