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US Archer Nichols Aims for Olympic Gold

Thousands of athletes will be taking aim at an Olympic medal in China this August. But only one will hit the ultimate bulls-eye in women's archery. In this profile by VOA's Jim Stevenson, American Jennifer Nichols is hoping her arrows will make the truest flight and strike gold.

Jennifer Nichols began shooting archery at the age of nine at her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Her father bought her and her siblings compound bows for Christmas. The Nichols family would shoot in the evenings in their backyard as a family activity they could all share together.

That same year in 1993, the Nichols children were introduced to the local Junior Olympic Archery Development Club. Jennifer, now 25, has stayed with the sport for 15 years.

"I started competing and I loved competition. I just loved it," she said. "And my scores would go up every time I competed. And I decided I just wanted to do it more."

The Nichols family soon started traveling to local and national archery tournaments and Jennifer's talents quickly hit the mark.

"I started going to state competitions and national competitions," she recalled. "And my coach through the club told me that I would be a great contender for the Olympic team one day. And that kind of just started a dream in my heart that I did not let go of."

That coach is Alexander Kirillov. At age 17, Jennifer and her family visited the Precision Shooting Equipment manufacturing plant in Tucson, Arizona, to train with Kirillov. The Russian-born coach was influential in the decision by Jennifer and her younger sister Amanda to become full-time archers.

The sisters have become best friends through traveling and training together, and they have pushed each other in practice by challenging and encouraging each other. Jennifer says her goal is simply to hone her skills.

"I am training to be my best," she said. "And so I work to perfect what I do, but I am not necessarily working just to beat someone else. So I try not to think about my competition too much."

Jennifer Nichols' approach landed her in first place at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2004 and again this year. She is a three-time Pan American champion and topped the world indoor and outdoor trials in 2005. Nichols also captured the U.S. indoor national championship for the past two years.

Nichols says her most memorable career experience was competing in Athens at the 2004 Olympic Games. Her match opened the entire archery competition. She was the first athlete to walk onto the field in the historic Panathinaiko Stadium for an Olympic competition since the first modern Games were held in Athens in 1896. She placed ninth.

Jennifer Nichols will pull her bow in Beijing, aiming to land in a significantly higher position, hopefully a medal.