Composite recurve bows date back thousands of years to when wood was layered with horn and sinew to resist compression and tension. Today’s recurve bows – the only kind of bow used in the Olympics – may resemble these early bows in style, but are far more advanced in engineering.

Bows are comprised of a bowstring and handle fitted with sighting accessories and stabilizer rods that dampen vibrations as the arrow is released. Bows must be stiff and stable to let arrows loose at speeds of nearly 150 mph. Composites provide that stiffness. For example, Hoyt Archery in Salt Lake City – which calls its Formula series “the most-winning new bow design in modern history” – uses triaxial 3-D carbon fiber around a synthetic foam core to improve speed and stability.

Reducing vibration is also critical. Win&Win Archery, a manufacturer in South Korea, infuses its bow limbs with a molecularly-bonded carbon nanotube resin to reduce “hand shock” caused by vibration. And by replacing the glass fiber coating many manufacturers use to protect bow surfaces with a 45° carbon system, Win&Win says it has created a smoother surface for improved arrow speed.

Bows aren’t the only highly-engineered composite component in this sport. Arrows, too, are finely tuned to reach the target. The X10 arrow, produced by Easton in Salt Lake City specifically for Olympic competition, bonds a high-strength carbon fiber to an alloy core.