Image of a Olympics symbol statue on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

The Age Limit for Archery in the Olympics

By: Mark Jeffreys

Age seems to be all too common a topic in archery circles. Although this topic is usually reserved to discussions on which age you start teaching your kids archery, that's not the only focus. It seems that every so often, I hear someone asking about the age limit for archery in the Olympics.

The age limit for sports in the Olympics is set by each sport's International Federation (IF); World Archery is the governing organization for archery. The minimum age limit for the archery in the Olympics is 16, but there is no upper limit for how old an archer can be and still compete. Compare that to other sports in the Olympics that set an upper age on competitors - such as soccer (FIFA) which sets an upper age limit of 23. For archery, all that matters is your ability to put arrows accurately and consistently into the target.

Many of the people that I hear ask this question are concerned that they are too old to compete in the Olympics. I understandt heir concern, but there have been several people that have done well in the Olympics even if they aren't "in their prime."

Archers Older than the Average Olympian

When it comes to archery, you're never too old to compete, even for an event as prestigious as the Olympics. There are several notable Olympians in archery that have done well, especially for their age.

Butch Johnson: 5-Time Olympian

Probably one of the most well-known examples of an archer competing - and excelling - in the Olympics is Butch Johnson. He started practicing archery when he was 15 and has made a name for himself with his competition success. He made the 1996 Olympic team and won team gold in men's archery when he was 41 years old. He also won a team bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics when he was 45. Though he didn't medal, he made the team again in 2008 at the age of 53!

He didn't stop there as he continued to compete and tried to make the Olympic team again in 2012. He finished second to number one ranked Brady Ellison in the 2012 Hoyt World Open to qualify for the trials. However, he finished sixth in the Olympic trials and didn't make the team. In total, he's competed in a record five consecutive Summer Olympics (1992 - 2008).

Seeing someone able to compete at the Olympic level at that age is inspiring! A story such as his shows how anyone - given the skill, talent, and proper training - can excel at the sport of archery.

The Women's Archery Medalists in the 1972 Olympics

Another example is the women's archery medalists of the 1972 Olympic Games. Before the 1988 Olympics, archery did not have any team events. Archers had to compete to win a spot on the team and individually fought to earn a medal. These women showed that you can earn medals no matter your age.

The gold medalist was Doreen Wilbur from the United States who was 42 years old. Irena Szydtowska from Poland won the silver at 44, and Emma Gapchenko from the Soviet Union at the age of 34. If you take their average age, you get 40 years old.

The average age of female archery competitors in 1972 was 31.4 years old. These women had to beat out their younger competitors to win a medal. It's amazing to see what these women were able to achieve to come out on top.

How Ages Have Changed

Many people that I know think of Olympians as being young. From what I was able to find, this does seem to be true for archery, too.

Since the reintroduction of archery to the Olympics in 1972, the average age of an archery medalist is 25 years old. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the average age of Olympians has risen from 25 years old to 27 years old between 1988 to the 2012 Olympic Games.

The average age has remained relatively consistent for archery during those same years.

Performance of Archery Olympians Since 1972

There does seem to be some outliers in the ages of archers that have made it to the podium. There has been at least one archery medalist age 30+ in the last 12 Games. In 9 of those Games, there has been a medalist aged 35 or older. The oldest archer to earn a medal was Butch Johnson in the 2000 Olympic Games. That being said, since 1984 all individual gold medals have been earned by archers age 31 and under. So it seems older Olympians are more likely to earn a medal as part of a team than individually.

But I'm Too Old to Learn Archery and be an Olympian

If you think you're too old to start learning archery, I'd have to disagree. Most Olympians are people who have beaten the odds to even get to the level they are at for their sport. I don't think anyone cut out to be in the Olympics would let a little thing like statistics of other competitors get in the way of their dreams.

If you need some inspiration from people who picked up archery later in life and were able to achieve some success, you can look to John Magera and Geena Davis.

John Magera is known for being an advocate for the recreational archer. Archery offers many benefits, and practicing it can help you both mentally and physically.

However, John did not limit himself to only practicing archery recreationally. He started archery at the age of 33 and was able to qualify for the US Olympic archery team when he was 34. That year, the US team finished 4th, losing the bronze medal match to the Ukranian team.

Geena Davis - an actress known for her roles in Beetlejuice, Thelma and Louise, A League of Their Own and Stuart Little - started practicing archery when she was 41. Two years after starting, she made it to the Olympic trials and finished 24th out of 300 competitors.

Though she didn't make the team, her performance shows that you don't have to be a lifelong archer to have a hope at making the Olympics. If you practice hard and are dedicated, you have a chance of making it!

What if I'm Too Young to Compete

I do hear from some aspiring archers that ask about the age limit of the Olympics who are too young to compete. It's not as common, but it's a question I hear a couple of times a year. The current age limit for archery is 16 years old. However, that was not always the case.

The Youngest Olympian Archer to Win a Medal

In 1988, there was an Olympian named Denise Parker who competed as part of the women's US Olympic archery team at the age of only 14 years old. No one expected her to do well, but the team managed to win the bronze, making Denise the youngest archer to win a medal at the Olympics.

If you are determined to make the Olympics, but you won't turn 16 by the time the games start, you can compete in the Youth Olympic Games. These games are held every four years but are held two years after the standard Summer Olympic Games. The age limit for archery in the Youth Olympics is 15 - 17 years old.

Other Competitive Events

If you're set on competitive archery, there are events all over the world that allow you to compete. There are two well-known archery organizations that host competitive tournaments for different age ranges. These are World Archery - with USA Archery being the US affiliate program - and the National Field Archery Association (NFAA).

World Archery defines several different levels of archery competitions for youth and adults. They both define different age ranges for anyone under 12 to archers past their 70th birthday.

World Archery NFAA
Youth Groups
Bowman (Up to age 12) Cub (Up to age 12)
Cub (Up to age 14)Youth (Age 12-14)
Cadet (Up to age 17)Young Adult (Age 14-17)
Junior (Up to age 20)
Adult Groups
Senior (Any age)Adult (Age 18-49)
Master 50+ (Age 50 and older)Senior (Age 50-59)
Master 60+ (Age 60 and older)Silver Senior (Age 60-69)
Master 70+ (Age 70 and older)Master Senior (Age 70+)

Final Thoughts

Archery is a sport that you can practice and compete in throughout your life. If you have the drive, you can make it to the Olympics even if you don't start when you're young. Sure beginning at an early age does have a competitive advantage, but if you have the dedication and drive, you can fulfill your Olympic dreams no matter your age.

Image of the site creator, Mark Jeffreys

Mark Jeffreys

Mark has been interested in archery since he was 8 years old and tried to make a bow using a stick and a rubber band. Mark enjoys the challenge that archery provides and is constantly seeking to improve. His mission is to pass on what he’s learned to help other archers.