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Then, too, Hardy's practice time had been seriously curtailed. He had not shot during the four weeks prior to final exams at school. Even when he returned home it was difficult for him to practice. He had a 12-hour-day job and, on top of that, his target range also serves as a baseball field for youngsters in Mt. Pleasant.
With his parents, Hardy rode 650 miles in the family car to St. Louis, where he got in two days of practice before taking part in the trials. Other archers who saw him agreed that he was shooting amazingly well and that he would be the man to beat. But on Ward's final practice shot, his bow cracked.
He rushed to Hoyt's factory in nearby Bridgeton, Mo. and got a bow similar to the broken one. It seemed futile, however, for it takes months for an archer to become wedded to his bow, to work out the kinks and to tune it delicately to his own style.
The night before the tryouts, Hoyt said, "Now we'll find out how great an archer he is. Shooting with a new bow and under the pressure of this competition is going to be the biggest challenge of his life."
Mrs. Ward was optimistic. "When Hardy was 15 he was riding his bicycle when he was hit by a car," she said. "The seat of his bicycle wound up under the car, but Hardy was thrown clear. All that happened to him was that he tore his trousers when he landed. He always seems to get out of the worst messes in good shape. I keep telling him that he has an angel sitting on his shoulder. He'll need that angel during the next two days."
The next day, however, it seemed as if Lucifer were seated on Ward's shoulder. Trying to adjust to his new bow, he completely missed his target three times, more than he usually misses during a full season. When the first day of the two-day trial was over—international competition for men is held at distances of 90, 70, 50 and 30 meters, with 36 arrows being shot from each range—he was tied for 13th place, 23 points out of the critical fourth spot. At that, he was fortunate, for he caught a seven-point error in his score that would have made his plight worse yet.
Hardy had to return to Hoyt's factory to make adjustments on his bow, and the night before the final round of the trials he was still practicing at well past 10 o'clock. His mother stood nearby, barefooted. She had taken off her shoes to prop up two flashlights so that they would shine on the distant target. The beams barely outlined the targets and Hardy's hopes seemed as dim as those two faint lights in the night.
Still, he was confident the next morning. He had been shooting since 7:20 a.m., and he felt he was getting sight readings down well. Then, minutes before the final shoot-off, the string on his bow snapped. For an archer, this is calamitous. It takes weeks to become accustomed to a string and to place his nocking points—one metal band on which the rear of the arrow rests and another on which he lines up the front peep sight.
So there was Hardy, going to the line with a badly swollen ankle, a new bow and a new string and without any sight readings. It was like telling Paganini to play The Flight of the Bumble Bee with a broomstick and a neighbor's fiddle.
Somehow, Ward shot well from 90 meters (about the length of a football field) and climbed swiftly to seventh place. Thereafter, though, it was slow going. Then tornado sirens were sounded, sudden darkness covered the range and violent thunderstorms swept the area. Returning to the shooting range after the storm, Hardy twisted his bad ankle.