By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
NEW HARMONY–Yes, it’s a skill that humans have engaged in through the ages — first as a way to defend one-self or to hunt for food, and in modern times, as a prestigious sport introduced for the first time into the U.S. Olympics program back in 1972.
That was the year that “Ed” Eliason earned his rank as one of the best archers in the world, traveling with the 1972 U.S. Archery Team to compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich. For Eliason, it was also the year that a group of Palestinian terrorists (Black September) stormed the huge Olympic Village, took nine Israeli athletes hostage, with the incident ending in a deadly shoot-out at Munich Airport.
“Some would say that this tragedy marred those 1972 Summer Games,” said Eliason of his many experiences and passion for archery. “But there were also numerous moments of spectacular athletic achievements, which many Americans will never forget.”
It was that year that American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals and one Russian teenager, Olga Korbut, earned two “dramatic” gold medals. And it is that kind of positive attitude and can do personality that Eliason says propelled him to achieve in the memorable moments of life and competition.
While archery hasn’t always been a popular sport in the U.S. or elsewhere, says Eliason, it continues to be a sport that he finds both challenging and personally motivating.
“I guess this really started with my grandmother, who worked hard all of her life, but who had that positive ‘can do’ spirit,” says Eliason of his family’s Norwegian roots.
“And this is the kind of encouragement you need to succeed in any sport.”
Eliason grew up near Puget Sound in Washington state, played football and basketball in high school, and eventually attended Western Washington University on a music scholarship. “I actually studied to become a music teacher,” says Eliason of his early interest in playing the trumpet with the high school band. But in 1961, all that changed, when he enlisted into the U.S. Army and pursued his calling with the elite Green Berets.
He says it was only after he left the military and returned to Washington that he picked up a hobby that grabbed his focus and ambition.
“I have to admit it became much more than a hobby,” says Eliason, who evolved into one of the best archers on record who reached the U.S. Olympic Games (1972) as well as competing in the 1983, 1991 and 1995 Pan American Games, winning 10 total medals, six of them golds.
Eliason is well known for offering up impromptu archery introductions in his New Harmony backyard and his efforts in developing introductory archery classes at SUU and at local high schools and an Archery Club. “I’ve been told that 20 students (Junior and Seniors) will have signed up for the (SUU) class by the very next morning,” Eliason said of local popularity.
He is quick to point out that that archery has gone mainstream.
“I think some of the popularity came with films like the ‘Hunger Games’ in 2008 and with the movie sequels and video games out there,” says Eliason, “Where the heroine shows off her abilities using the time-honored U.S. Olympic main stay — the Re-Curve or (Cross Bow).”
In fact, according to the U.S.A. Archery, (a governing body for the sport) interest in the sport soared 48 percent since the movie release (2008-2010) with youth participation at National Championship events up by a third. With that, participation has likewise increased for girls, youth, and the demand for more archery programs in local school programs.
Eliason points out that Cedar City and the surrounding Utah area provides a perfect training environment for serious archers: That is, the higher altitude develops the ability to take in more oxygen, to reach better physiological condition, and to perfect greater control of mind and body.
“Some new archers may look good, they may have good form (from the outside) but what really counts (in this sport), is what is going on inside the athlete,” Eliason said. It is also a sport that requires practice, focus and extreme diligence. “As with any one who is dedicated to a sport, or a career, or a passion in their life – the first thing I think about in the morning is that bow, experimenting, testing, approach, mind-set. It’s still that kind of thrill, and that kind of focus hasn’t swayed for over 50 years.”
Eliason admits that his early interests in music and teaching have following him into the field of archery. He and a handful of others have focused their efforts on providing and expanding archery opportunities in high schools, through the Archery Club as well as by offering Introductory Archery classes to sophomores and seniors.
“Archery teaches you to stand tall in the competition that’s ahead of you, to really focus on the conditions and the situations that you find yourself in,” Eliason said.
According to archery experts, the process of becoming and achieving success in any sport requires good physical condition, correct eating patterns, to have the right equipment, to develop a strong and formidable state of mind.
“I have a daily log book I follow, and an archer works on his skill and stance and discipline every day,” said Eliason with a smile, “I call it ‘going to the Gaunlet,’ and standing tall.”