Doreen Wilber

“Focus, believe in yourself and shoot only one arrow at a time.”  — Doreen Viola Wilber

Not as inspirational, but quite good…

“As soon as you get the training wheels off that compound bow, you can shoot a real bow.”  — Doreen Wilber said to Don Orris

Doreen Wilber at 42 winning gold for the USA in Munich in 1972

Doreen Wilber was married to Paul “Skeeter” Wilber.  She often did bookkeeping for her husband’s auto shop.  Skeeter was a bow hunter, but Doreen didn’t show much interest in hunting.  In 1957, Skeeter received a bow and set of arrows in exchange for work he did on a car.  This was Doreen’s first archery kit.  She showed an aptitude for the sport, even though she was already 27.

Without a coach and back when the Easton was the only practical commercial sponsor, Doreen trained with Skeeter.

From 1963 to 1973 she never lost a tournament at the state level.  In ten years as a national competitor from 1965 to 1975 she medaled eight times winning five gold, two silver and one bronze.  Internationally she rewrote the record book establishing ten new records and the first woman to shoot over 1200 in world competition.  The high point of her archery career was winning the Olympic gold medal on September 15, 1972 becoming the first woman from Iowa to win an Olympic gold medal which she accomplished at age 42.  (Easton Foundation)

Doreen in the 1970s and her ever present cat-eye glasses.

Doreen was one of many small town heroes spotlighted by Sports Illustrated in their ongoing series, Faces in the Crowd (4 September 1967).

Doreen Wilber, a 37-year-old housewife from Jefferson, Iowa, became the first amateur ever to score 500 or more points in a women’s national field archery tournament when she hit 505 out of a possible 560 at the U.S. championships in Jackson, Miss.

The sexism is probably consistent for the time, but it is hard to think what the lead would be if it had been a man.  “Archie Bunker wannabe shoots 505…”

Five years later, Doreen found herself at the Olympics. The Munich Olympics marked the return of archery to the Olympics.  The disappearance of archery from the Olympics is sometimes blamed on the lack of a strong organizing body.  Who knows what politics were involved.

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The Jeffersonian Herald created this anachronistic retelling of her 1972 performance after her passing.

Representing an entire demographic of woman young and old, Iowa’s best hope for Olympic gold almost never was.

Jefferson resident and archer, Doreen Wilber, 42, stumbled to a lack-luster first round score of 1,198 at the Munich Olympic Games, leaving her on the outside looking in.

Halfway through the competition, the Jefferson High School graduate stood in fourth place and off the medal stand.

What she did in the second and final round not only secured her a miraculous come-from-behind win and the gold medal – a first for any Iowa woman – but she accomplished the feat in world record-shattering fashion.

Wilber’s blistering score of 1,226 was the highest total any woman had ever achieved in international competition – and it wasn’t even close.

No woman, up to that point, had even cracked the 1,200 point plateau in competition.

Her record-breaking second round performance allowed her to leap-frog the three athletes in front of her to capture the iconic gold medal, with relative comfort.

The Olympic win has been building for nearly a decade – Wilber’s undefeated streak in national and local tournament action stretches all the way back to 1962.

But worldwide success had alluded the veteran Wilber. She never tasted the ultimate in international competition until now, finishing second at the world championships in Pennsylvania and second in England.

Most startling is the fact the Iowan has achieved this much success as a late bloomer – she didn’t even pick up a bow, let alone compete tournaments, until she was 27.

Wilber has set the record books on fire as of late – she has broken 10 world records since 1968, perhaps aided by her dedication to authenticity – the local archer uses real feathers on her arrows.

Her scores from Munich:

City Phase Unit Rank Date Points
München Final Standings 1 1972-09-07 2,424
München Total 30 metres 1 1972-09-07 670
München Total 50 metres 2T 1972-09-07 572
München Total 70 metres 4 1972-09-07 617
München Total 90 metres 3 1972-09-07 565
München Round One 4T 1972-09-07 1,198
München Round One 30 metres 1 1972-09-07 336
München Round One 50 metres 8 1972-09-07 287
München Round One 60 metres 11T 1972-09-07 298
München Round One 70 metres 9T 1972-09-07 277
München Round Two 1 1972-09-09 1,226
München Round Two 30 metres 1 1972-09-09 334
München Round Two 50 metres 4 1972-09-09 285
München Round Two 60 metres 2 1972-09-09 319
München Round Two 70 metres 2T 1972-09-09 288

(From Sports Reference)

Also available as this simple text extract since that site is shutting down.

Games,Age,City,Sport,Country,Phase,Unit,Rank,Date,Result,PTS
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Final Standings,,1,1972-09-07,,2424
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Total,30 metres,1,1972-09-07,,670
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Total,50 metres,2T,1972-09-07,,572
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Total,70 metres,4,1972-09-07,,617
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Total,90 metres,3,1972-09-07,,565
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round One,,4T,1972-09-07,,1198
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round One,30 metres,1,1972-09-07,,336
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round One,50 metres,8,1972-09-07,,287
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round One,60 metres,11T,1972-09-07,,298
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round One,70 metres,9T,1972-09-07,,277
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round Two,,1,1972-09-09,,1226
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round Two,30 metres,1,1972-09-09,,334
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round Two,50 metres,4,1972-09-09,,285
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round Two,60 metres,2,1972-09-09,,319
1972 Summer,42,München,Archery,United States,Round Two,70 metres,2T,1972-09-09,,288

With the return of archery at the Olympics, the US swept the gold medals with John Williams winning the men’s event.

Doreen Wilber and John Williams 1972 Olympics

Gold medal archers from USA at Munich in 1972 – John Williams and Doreen Wilber.

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Sporting the Munich gold medal.

When Wilber returned from the Olympics in Munich, she was greeted by the Governor of Iowa and a giant procession of cars escorted her back to Jefferson, Iowa.

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Jefferson is central Iowa

Doreen continued to compete, including the Championships of the Americas in 1974.

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Left to right: Ed Martin, Allen Martin, Darrell Pace, Judy Crowl, Linda Myers, Ed Eliason, Doreen Wilber, Rick McKinney, Irene Lorenson Dubenspeck and Doug Brothers

Her interest in archery continued after her return from the Olympics, but her focus shifted from competition to training aspiring young archers. According to Don Orris, one of her Jefferson trainees, she opened her home to hundreds of students. “Her only rule,” Orris notes, “was that the youngsters couldn’t aim at the house!” (The Iowan)

More about Don Orris

In 1983, Topps published trading cards of great Olympians in anticipation of the 1984 games at Los Angeles.  Doreen Wilber was number 25 in the set.

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A signed copy

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And another signed copy, from a proud Rutlandian (Doreen’s birth town)

In 1999, Sports Illustrated recognized Doreen Wilber as one of the 50 greatest athletes from Iowa.

#31
Doreen Wilbur (sic)
JEFFERSON
Won archery gold medal at 1972 Olympics with world-record 2,424
points.

In 2008, Doreen passed away.

Iowa’s first woman Olympic gold medalist diesBy The Associated Press Oct 21, 2008 0

DES MOINES, Iowa — The first woman from Iowa to win an Olympic gold medal has died.

Archery champion Doreen Wilber of Jefferson died Sunday of Alzheimer’s disease at age 78

Wilber won her medal in the 1972 games in Munich. When she returned to Iowa late at night, she was met by huge crowds at the Des Moines airport and at least 1,500 at the courthouse square in Jefferson.

She won her medal at a time when most Olympic athletes weren’t able to cash in on their success with endorsements. That was fine for Wilber, who returned to a quiet life in Jefferson and worked as a bookkeeper for her husband’s auto garage and other local businesses.

Services are planned at 11 a.m. Thursday at Slininger-Rossow Funeral Home in Jefferson. (Iowan Statesman)

In 2011, the Olympic Park project was completed in Jefferson after several years of planning by Don Orris (USA Archery).  It includes a life sized bronze statue of Doreen, including her cat eye glasses, and a target placed at an appropriate distance.

Signage is also included.

The signs read:

Doreen was a natural archer, physically strong and displayed amazing concentration.  Daily she committed to the discipline, focus, and practice of her sport.  A great competitor with outstanding sportsmanship, she would take archery supplies to international opponents that had trouble getting them…even her fiercest competitors.

For some, winning an Olympic gold medal would be an ending.  For Doreen, it was a beginning.  For twelve years, Doreen and Skeeter volunteered and offered a Junior Olympic Archery Development program in Jefferson.  Darcy Blacker Gill, one of those young archers, states: “Every summer for years after my first Park and Rec class I was nearly a permanent fixture in the Wilber back yard.  They set up a target and dedicated a garden shed to the storage of archery equipment for ‘the kids’ so that the who wished could ride their bikes out there to practice.  The most vivid part of the scene was Doreen herself.  Always barefoot, sun bronzed, and smiling, she would drop whatever she was doing and come to watch, offering advice or wisely recognizing when a moody adolescent was not open to comment.  She clearly felt that her conquests on the archery field were on par with the quiet, day-to-day dedications that shaped her life such as her devotion to her husband, the maintenance of her home, and unwavering commitment to her friends and family.  She will always be for me a foremost example of grace, humility, and beauty – the ultimate lady, athlete, and friend.  She conquered challenges on a global scale yet held in higher esteem the values and lifestyle of rural Iowa.”

Doreen Wilber

Bare feet Doreen

Doreen Wilber exemplifies an ordinary person who did extraordinary things.  The inspiration and contribution made by one life can motivate everyone to make a difference in the world.  Doreen (Hansen) Wilber was born in Rutland, IA and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1948.  Doreen learned archery as an adult when her husband, Paul “Skeeter” Wilber, a local mechanic shop owner, received a bow and set of arrows as payment for auto repair bill.  Without professional coaching or commercial sponsorship, she made it to the top of amateur archery.  Skeeter gave Doreen instruction and was her only coach.

Accomplishments

From 1963 to 1973 at the state level she never lost a tournament. She was first at the seven state sectional levels from 1962 until 1969 and as a national competitor from 1965 until 1975 she won 5 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze. and in 1976, she won the national indoor gold medal. In her first national competition in 1965 she amazed everyone, not only with her ability, but also because she shot with arrows that were fletched with real feathers! Doreen shot on the international level from 1968 until 1974 and rewrote the record book establishing 10 new records and became the first woman to shoot over 1200 in international competition, During that time she made the US Archery team 8 times and competed in such places as Russia, England, South Africa, San Juan and Germany, She set either national or world records 18 times. The highest point of her shooting career was winning the Olympic gold medal in Munich, Germany in 1972.

  • Winner, Women’s Olympic Gold Medal in Archery, 1972
  • National Archery Associations Champion, 1969, 71, 73 and 74
  • National Field Archery Association Amateur Champion, 1967
  • United States Indoor Champion, 1975
  • Ambassador Cup Champion, 1968
  • Winner, Championship of the Americas – Puerto Rico, 1973
  • Member, U.S. International Archery Team, 1968, 69, 71 and 73