Butch Johnson’s Guide to Watching Archery

The gold medalist offers a cheat sheet on his sport’s rules, maneuvers and slang

Butch Johnson-main.jpg
Butch Johnson draws his bow during the Olympic Men's Archery competition in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. Darren McNamara/Getty Images

Introducing the Expert

Name: Butch Johnson
Games and Medals: Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 (Gold, Team), Sydney 2000 (Bronze, Team), Athens 2004, Beijing 2008
Key quote: “The best part is the challenge—nobody has ever shot a 1440 (a perfect score). You’re always working to be better.”


Riser - The handle of the bow, or the midsection that you hold.

Limbs - Usually (incorrectly) referred to as “arms,” these are the elongated pieces extending from the riser that conduct the energy of the bow.

Stabilizers -These long bars on the front and sides of the bow provide balance, stability in the wind and help minimize vibration.


Release - The physical act of releasing the string. Archers usually never say “letting go,” because we want to get a clean, strong release each time.

Stance - The way the archer stands and holds his or her body throughout the shot. Some archers shoot partially turned toward the target (open stance) while others stand perpendicular to the target (square stance).

Anchor - Once the string is drawn back, the act of securing the string in the same spot on the archer’s face each time. Most Olympic archers will draw the string to a point under their jaw, and the string will lightly touch the center of their nose as a reference point.


1. Form - the archer’s shooting technique

2. Holding gold - hitting the center of the target (the gold rings) consistently

3. Boss - how the British archers and commentators will be referring to the target. Here in the U.S., we refer to it as a “bale.”


Ranking Round - Sixty-four competitors are seeded based on the their scores during a ranking round. Archers shoot 72 arrows in 6 "ends," or groups, of 12 arrows during this round.

Single Elimination - In the individual competition, archers are paired up based on their ranking and shoot matches against one another. If an archer loses a match, they are finished in the individual competition. They start by bracketing number 1 versus 64 and so forth, until only four archers remain. Those archers shoot a semifinal match, and the winners of that match shoot for gold, while the losers will shoot for bronze. In the team event, teams are ranked based on their archers' individual performance in the ranking round. Archers' scores are added together to create a team qualifying score, then the teams are bracketed against one another in the same way individuals are.

The Shooting Line - Archers will have a line from which they shoot and during the team round, there will be a one meter line behind the shooting line. Only one archer at a time can be past that line. If another archer moves into that space too soon, it’s a rule violation.

Game Changers

2009 - Carbon bows became commercially popular. In contrast with the wooden bows of yesteryear, today's Olympians are shooting bows that preserve the ancient, elongated look and feel, but are made of high tech materials such as carbon and aluminum for the riser, and carbon, wood and parabolic foam for the limbs.

2010 - A switch is made from cumulative scores in individual competition matches to “set play,” in which the scoring is similar to tennis. Archers each shoot a three arrow set and score it. The winner of the set receives two points; one point for a tie, and zero for a loss. The match continues until one archer receives six set points. If the archers end at a 5-all draw, they shoot a one-arrow shoot off to see whose arrow is closest to center; that archer wins the match.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.