Archer's aim for U.S. title is true Abingdon's Leiter is 5-time outdoor champ


Mike Leiter really never expected to win this year's National Field Archery Association championship -- at least, not until the first day of competition.

When Leiter, 33, finished the first round on July 27, he had missed only three shots on the 28-target course in Wausau, Wis. He was in the lead.

Three others were tied for second -- two shots back with four rounds to go over the next four days. They never caught him.

Leiter's victory made archery history. His title made him the first ever five-time NFAA professional outdoor champion. He also won in 1980, 1982 and 1985.

The winning score, 2,779 of a possible 2,800, was just three points short of the world record and two points off Leiter's personal best.

When Leiter called his wife Kathy back home in Abingdon, the cheers of their 6-year-old twins, Jason and Kenny, greeted him. Despite the twins' enthusiasm, their parents have to put his accomplishments in perspective for the boys, who don't quite realize the magnitude of their dad's talent.

"They've been really interested in the Olympics," said Leiter, "so we try and tell them if the type of equipment I shoot were allowed in the Olympics, Daddy would be in the Olympics. That kind of impresses them."

Going into last week's tournament, Leiter wasn't sure he could impress the twins or anyone else. He didn't believe he would shoot well and didn't feel motivated.

"I felt, all week, like I was carrying around a 10,000-pound elephant on my back. I didn't feel as confident as last year."

Strangely, the lack of motivation stemmed from two of the most rewarding experiences of his career, he said. After finishing second in 1990, Leiter won the NFAA outdoor title last year

becoming one of only three four-time champs. Three months ago, Leiter had his biggest payday, $4,000, at a California tournament.

"Every time there's a big tournament, it takes something out of you," said Leiter.

But after he shot well on the first day, Leiter felt like he could win.

"Two shots is really not a big lead. It can disappear on one target. But I had a good first day and it kind of carried me through the rest," said Leiter, a pro for 14 years. "Now, I feel like I want to win some more."

At the very least, Leiter wants to even out his collection of trophies. The first four of his championship silver bowls fit nicely in a single cabinet. There was no room for a fifth, so his latest award has a cabinet all to itself.

Leiter's longtime friend and rival Terry Ragsdale, a four-time national champ, told Leiter to build a bigger cabinet, but the Bel ++ Air High graduate has other ideas.

"This one looks pretty lonely in there. Now, I feel like I want to win some more," said Leiter who made his first trip to nationals at 13.

In field archery, the reward for a national championship is mostly the title itself. There is no big money. For his fifth title, Leiter brought home $2,350 -- $1,350 for the winner's purse and a $1,000 bonus from his sponsor, Precision Shooting Equipment based in Tucson, Ariz.

Despite his success, Leiter has trimmed his tournament schedule to about five a year, because he usually can't win enough money to make the trip worthwhile. Most tournaments last a weekend and a few are longer.

Since the twins were born, Leiter has stayed at home while wife Kathy works as an accountant at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Now that the boys are older, he works part time at Deer Creek Archery near Dublin.

A member of the Vingtnuf Bowmen club in White Marsh, he also conducts bow-tuning clinics for archery and hunting clubs.

Although Leiter has stuck with field archery through the years, he probably will expand his horizons next year to include more three-dimensional tournaments. That's where the big money is.

At one series of 3-D tournaments next year, prize money of $10,000 will be offered for the winner of each of six qualifiers. The championship is worth $45,000.

Leiter, who has shot 3-D in the past, said the adjustments from shooting at flat targets to shooting at three-dimensional animal figures shouldn't be too difficult -- the biggest conversion will be adjusting to the distance.

The field archery targets range between 10 and 80 yards from the shooter, while the 3-D targets are all within 45 yards.

But a payday of $10,000 would more than double Leiter's career earnings, so the adjustments will be worthwhile.

"That's the kind of money I've waited a long time to shoot for. A lot of pros are talking about it. With this kind of money, we can't really afford not to try it."

Even when he starts shooting the 3-D tournaments, Leiter said, he won't give up field archery. He still has more to accomplish.

He would like to break the world record of 2,782 shot by Ragsdale in 1981. Leiter is also aiming at a perfect one-day round of 560, a feat that no archer has accomplished. Leiter has scored 559.

At next year's nationals in Kansas City, Mo., Leiter also plans to take aim at his sixth silver bowl.

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