British archery is undergoing a quiet renaissance. Can it hit the spot at the 2012 Olympics?by David Goldblatt / June 22, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Larry Godfrey practises at Lord’s: when the Olympic archery competition takes place there next year, the sound of leather on willow will be replaced by the swish of arrows in flight
The edgelands of north Bristol, hidden in the anonymous interstices between motorway junctions, seem an appropriate place to look for British archery. Like many Olympic sports, it does not get a lot of coverage. Even at the Games, where the British team has been competitive for the last decade, the sport has struggled to be seen.
It wasn’t always like this. In the era of the longbow, successive British monarchs implored their yeomen to practise archery and on occasion banned distractions from the task, such as football. While the arrival of the gun ended the bow’s military career, archery was reinvented as a target sport in Georgian England. At the end of the 18th century, after receiving the patronage of the Prince of Wales, the Toxophilite society combined aristocratic glamour, flamboyant costumes, socialising, drinking and competitive sport into an irresistible cocktail. The participants were the rich; the poor, in their thousands, came to gawp.
But the last 150 years have not been kind to the sport. Its glamour faded and it appeared anachronistic, even faintly absurd, in a newly urban and industrial world. What place is there for it now?
At the end of a tiny winding lane, and down a private road behind a stable, I find the Cleve Archers club. It consists of a field and a hut. Beneath a small wooden shooting range is Larry Godfrey, one of Britain’s leading male archers, who is steadily firing at a target the size of a big dinner plate 50 metres away. Godfrey came within a whisker of winning a bronze at Athens 2004 and at 2012 will be challenging for a medal, most probably in the team event.
Watching him practise you can see that he possesses the deeply meditative poise that archery demands. Competing at Olympic level requires Godfrey to comb…