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September 07, 2015

Archer Brady Ellison Shoots Past "Slump" To Aim For Gold At Rio Olympics

Brady Ellison competes at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Archery on Sept. 6, 2015 in College Station, Texas.


Two-time Olympic archer Brady Ellison doesn't need anyone to tell him he had a disappointing finish at the 2012 London Games. And he certainly doesn't want anyone telling him that he had a post-Olympic slump.

He scoffs at the word "slump." He shrugs it off. He uses it as motivation. He debunks it as a myth with no merit.

"Everyone talks about a slump, but I was ranked among the top seven or eight in the world in 2013 and the whole time since then," said Ellison, who's among the top recurve archers in the world and one of the best on Team USA. "I don't consider it a slump at all."

Ellison was No. 8 in the final world rankings at the end of 2013. That's been his lowest year when otherwise he's been ranked first, second or sixth every year since 2010.

It's kind of like Tiger Woods not winning every tournament in his prime. Or LeBron James not winning every title. But they competed at the highest level - year in and year out - in their heydays and were considered the best.

Ellison has been America's most dominant male archer since age 19, when he was the top-ranked archer for Team USA going into the 2008 Beijing Games. He was also the top-ranked archer going into the 2012 London Games and the favorite to win gold.

He's rebounded since London and is back among the most elite archers in the world, and now has his sights aimed at a trip to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

"I think he's the most talented archer in the world," said Kisik Lee, head coach of USA Archery. "He's worked hard to be in the shape he's in to get to Rio and maybe win gold in 2016."

Ellison, 26, said shots just didn't fall the way he needed them to in London.

"In London I just shot bad and got beat. It was a wonderful venue," said Ellison, who did help lead his fellow Americans to a team silver in London. "My best chance of medaling individually was probably in Beijing."

He finished 27th in Beijing and tied for 17 in London.

In 2013 he fractured a bone in his right hand - just above the pinky finger. Four days later, he won a tournament with a cast on that broken hand.

"I competed in another one two weeks later, and competed in four tournaments with a broken hand," Ellison said.

He didn't practice as much while his hand healed but continued to fight through the pain during tournaments as he found it difficult to put continuous pressure and weight on the hand that draws back his bow.

He never lost his world standing, and even proved the doubters - or those who called his performance slumping - wrong by dominating once again on the world stage. And in 2013 he went on with business as usual.

At the 2013 world championships in Belek, Turkey, he won men's team gold and mixed team silver. He also won individual bronze in the 2013 World Cup Final in Paris.

Not bad for someone in a slump.

He regained the World Cup Final title in 2014 to go along with his 2010 and 2011 titles, making him the only male archer to ever win three World Cup Finals.

This season, he won silver at the Pan American Games, finished fifth at the world championships and won a team gold medal at the world cup stop in Wroclaw, Poland.

He was at Texas A&M University this weekend competing in the first stage of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to make his third Olympic team. He won the Texas Shootout earlier in the week, to easily make the list of 16 men who would compete in the two-day trials. Ellison now holds third place in the trials standings, with the second trials event being held next April, when the field will be whittled down to the top eight.

Ellison began using a bow while hunting in Arizona. He says archery is about 5 percent physical and 95 percent mental.

"You have to stay focused and you have to keep practicing," Ellison said. "Any extra pressure you put on yourself is going to hurt you."

Ellison continues to train as a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in residence in Chula Vista, California. He said after each day's rigorous practices of bow pulling, aims and adjusting to weather-related elements, he spends an extra 2-3 hours working on the mental aspects of the sport, often visualizing the shots and simulating the event in his head.

He talked about the state of archery in the United States as compared to other countries and said most Americans see archery as a hobby rather than a competitive international sport.

"It's getting harder to keep up with them," Ellison said of other countries. "Government funding is the main reason."

Ellison depends on sponsorships and said that when he doesn't win or place, his checks aren't as plentiful. He said better finishes at tournaments mean better insurance of a roof over his head and food on the table.

He said most archers get into the sport through hunting or 4-H clubs, but more and more of the younger generation are getting into it through the book (and movie) series "The Hunger Games." He said most will never be involved enough to make it to the senior circuit and vault themselves to the highest levels.

Ellison said he will continue his aim at being the best and this time just relax, with sights set at shooting for gold next year in Rio.

Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 17 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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