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The 29-year-old McKinney, a senior phys ed major at Arizona State, has none of the bodily preoccupations we expect of Olympic-class athletes. In an age of high-performance nostrums such as bee pollen and spirulina, of the twin taboos—sugar and fat—he rises each morning to his favorite breakfast of chocolate-chip cookies and water; he sings the praises of "the basic four food groups" contained in a Big Mac, shake, fries and a lemon tart; and while competing he chain-sips Pepsi-Cola, claiming "The bicarbonate settles my stomach." He says, surprisingly, "I don't want too much strength in my arms. If I start using them a lot when I shoot, I lose the fine control over my shot." Successful archers mainly use their back and shoulder muscles; McKinney strengthens his with weights, but only light ones, and even that minimal exertion is rare among archers.
His chief rival is fellow ectomorph Darrell Pace of Hamilton, Ohio, a 5'11" 140-pounder. The 26-year-old Pace has never touched a weight or done any running. But he has won five national championships and was the Olympic gold medalist in 1976 at Montreal, where McKinney was fourth.
The world has learned about archery from Robin Hood and Errol Flynn, coming to expect high drama in the process. But there is none of that in competition target shooting; instead, there are subtleties and intrigue, all but hidden to casual observers, of which there are few.
Some 150 archers were always on the shooting line at the nationals in Long Beach, beside a perfect greensward that will be the Olympic archery venue next summer, as well as the site of this month's world championships. But no applause disturbed the near silence that enveloped them. The only sounds were the gentle twang of releasing bowstrings and the soft and distant popping of arrows piercing targets.
Now the four-day competition was half over. The second of two identical rounds was under way—36 arrows at each of four distances, the first an imposing 90 meters. To hit the nine-and 10-point center circle at that distance seemed a stroke of the wildest good fortune, but McKinney was hitting it often, and leading the competition. Pace was only eight points back, and the intrigue was building. They were in a foursome, shooting two at a time, and as the targets grew more crowded with arrows the archers would raise their telescopes or binoculars to search for their color-coded arrow nocks. After six shots apiece, the archers would march to their targets, one to call the scores, one to put them on the board, two to keep the records.
One of those shooting with McKinney and Pace was Hiroshi Yamamoto of Japan. Ineligible to win the nationals, he was at Long Beach for practice, but was close behind McKinney and Pace, and they wanted more than just to win. They wanted the tournament's best score. So did Yamamoto. He and McKinney were leading off together, but McKinney would always let Yamamoto start shooting first. It was afternoon now, and the wind had blown up; McKinney would watch Yamamoto's arrows "lie in the wind," as he put it later. "From behind, in still air, they look like a dot. But in the wind the back ends kick over. You can read the wind that way, which helps you to adjust your aim." Yamamoto seemed afraid to deprive McKinney of this advantage by waiting him out. There is a 2½-minute time limit for each three shots, and McKinney was much the faster shooter of the two. Finally, when Yamamoto said, "You go first," McKinney relented. It seemed to be a matter of sportsmanship.
The last day began and McKinney led Pace by 22 points, but that morning, at 50 meters, something curious was happening. As one official put it, "McKinney is going down the tubes." Pace gained six points in only 12 shots, and then he gestured toward the target.
"He's playing a little game," McKinney whispered. "He's requesting a new target face. That can be a psychological disadvantage, since I'm shooting first. When the center circle is broken up with holes, you can find a little dark area to aim at. But when it's nearly empty...."
Toward the end of the 50-meter round, in three arrows McKinney shot a perfect 10 and then two nines. Pace countered with two 10s and a nine; on his last two arrows he shot one 10 and then another 10 that split the first arrow down the middle, a rare "Robin Hood." It seemed to be a symbol of his ascendancy and of McKinney's collapse. Pace had gained 12 points with only 36 arrows, and he trailed by 10 now. Still to be shot was the 30-meter competition, and Pace held the world record at that distance, with 356 points of a perfect 360.
Later, McKinney would say of that 50-meter round, "My mind was breaking down. Darrell was in total command."