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Mile Marker: Shooting for Gold


Iowans take aim at Olympic history

Story by Mary Gottschalk

Paul Wilber took up field archery to improve his bow hunting skills. His wife, Doreen, had no interest in hunting, but archery was a pleasant activity the Jefferson couple could share. When a customer of Paul’s auto repair business bartered for work with an archery set, Doreen strung up the bow and arrows. She was 27.

A natural talent whose amateur archer husband was her only coach, Doreen began entering archery contests, and by 1965 she was the top female archer in the United States. At the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, she was the first woman to shoot over 1,200 points in a world competition, earning a gold medal at age 42.

Her interest in archery continued after her return from the Olympics, but her focus shifted from competition to training aspiring young archers. According to Don Orris, one of her Jefferson trainees, she opened her home to hundreds of students. “Her only rule,” Orris notes, “was that the youngsters couldn’t aim at the house!”

Doreen Wilber died in 2008. Three years later her role in both Olympic sports and in the community was commemorated with a life-size bronze statue in downtown Jefferson (right).

On the 40th anniversary of Doreen’s Olympic feat, another Iowa woman is aiming for the gold. Miranda Leek can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t an archer. “Shooting came naturally to me,” says the West Des Moines native whose interest in archery began as a father-daughter activity that led to her first competition in 2000 at age 7. By 2005 she’d won two national titles and set a world record for her age group.

Her march to the Olympics began that same year when she received a recurve — the bow style used by Olympic athletes — for her 12th birthday. A year later she was selected for the U.S. Junior Dream Team of young archers actively training for Olympic competition. “Along with being strong, she has an amazingly positive attitude,” says Teresa Iaconi, a Level IV archery coach who has worked with the Junior Dream Team. “Determination and mental fortitude count for a lot. She’s got what it takes to be a winner.”

Leek is positioned to be one of the U.S. competitors in 2012. As of May 1, she held the pivotal first-place spot after two U.S. Olympic Trials events; the final U.S. team will be named at the third Trials event slated for June 1–3 (after this issue’s press date — Editor). “If I don’t make the team this year,” says Leek, “I’ll be back in 2016.”

Leek never met Wilber but knows of her triumph. “I remember winning the Wilber trophy in the Iowa Games.” She shares with Wilber exceptional physical strength in the arms and shoulders, extraordinary powers of concentration, and a passion for competitive archery. Like Wilber, she also sees life beyond archery. Leek refers to herself as “a science nerd” and plans to attend Texas A&M this fall to major in molecular and cell biology.

More Iowa Inspiration

Iowa archer Matt Stutzman of Fairfield has already qualified for the 2012 U.S. Paralympic team. Born without arms, Stutzman shoots the arrows with his toes. He’s so well-known internationally that his image is featured in British Petroleum promotional material. The Paralympic Games begin in London on August 29.

Arc & Arrows

Olympic archers compete using a recurve bow. According to Teresa Iaconi, a recurve archer has to transfer virtually 100 percent of the energy in the arrow from his or her own muscle strength. By contrast, the compound bow — Leek’s first — utilizes cams and pulleys to provide at least 65 percent of the energy in the arrow when it leaves the bow.

Archery scoring is based on the number of arrows shot, with a maximum of 10 points per arrow. A typical World Archery Federation (FITA) Round is 144 arrows for a maximum score of 1,440. Scores have improved dramatically over the past 40 years, reflecting both increased athletic ability and improved technology. Wilber’s world record-breaking score in 1972 was 1,226. By contrast, Leek won the U.S. National Target Championship in 2011 with 1,333.

As a transplant from New York, Mary Gottschalk writes about Iowa as a way to learn the highways and byways of her adopted home state.

Currently holding archery’s first-place spot on Team USA, Leek (top) could make new history four decades after Wilber’s gold. Photo courtesy Teresa Iaconi.

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