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PHOENIX - The AAE Arizona Cup, a World Ranking Event and the first U.S. Archery Team (USAT) Qualifier Series Event of the year, begins on Thursday with event-high registrations of over 390 archers. With archers being waitlisted for entries as much as a month ahead of the event, the Arizona Cup promises to deliver the kind of archery showdown that fans have been missing since the Olympic Games.
Many of the U.S. favorites will be competing for medals and world ranking points, as well as archers from fourteen other countries - including a cadet women's team from Korea, archers from China, Brazil and Australia - and the entire Mexican Olympic Archery Team.
In a year packed with key international events such as the World Cup Series, three World Championships events, and the World Games, who will stand out? There are lots of American heavy hitters in the game this week, including World No. 1 ranked archers Brady Ellison (Payson, Ariz.) and Reo Wilde (Pocatello, Idaho). Several female U.S. competitors are also in the top ten of the World Rankings, including Jamie Van Natta (Toledo, Ohio), Erika Jones (Grand Island, Neb.), and Olympian Miranda Leek (Des Moines, Iowa).
However, archers from several other countries are expected to bring their A-games to the field and could shake up those rankings, including Linda Ochoa (MEX) and Stephanie Salinas (MEX) for the compound women; Julio Fierro (MEX), Hafid Jaime (MEX), and Dietmar Trillus (CAN) for the compound men; Aida Roman (MEX), Mariana Avitia (MEX) and Alejandra Valencia (MEX) for the recurve women, and Crispin Duenas (CAN), Juan Rene Serrano (MEX) and Luis Alvarez (MEX) for the recurve men.
For her part, Van Natta has been training hard, and says she's focused on making good shots. "I changed a few things," she commented, "including the speed of my release, so I really want to focus on execution rather than score for this first event." In addition to Jones, Salinas and Ochoa, Van Natta will have competition from teammate Diane Watson (Hudson, Fla.), who's learning about her shots in a new way: by coaching other archers.
"I've found that [coaching has] made me really think about my own shot and about the areas that I can improve upon," Watson explained. "A lot of the coaching I've been doing is regarding proper back tension, and that led me to look at my own shots and discover that over the years, I had gotten a little soft in my shot. So this week, my commitment is to making my shots strong each time."
With so much talent in the men's recurve category, there's real potential for close competition - and some shakeups. Jake Kaminski (Elma, N.Y.), coming off a team medal win but an early individual exit in the Olympic Games, started the season strong with a gold medal win at the recent Versus Mexico event. When asked about his focus for this week, Kaminski said he's driven to "maintain [the same] focus that I had at the Versus shoot. I laid the groundwork months ago, however I am shooting other distances than just 70m."
For the recurve women's group, it could well end up in a Mexico-USA showdown, with Roman, Avitia and Valencia certainly in contention for medals. However, the American "team that could" - Khatuna Lorig, Jennifer Hardy and Leek - will be reunited in Arizona for what promises to be a high-energy elimination round. With lessons learned in London under their belts, can the U.S. women finish strong on their home turf?
And for any fans who think the men's compound group will be predictable: don't bet on it. With winds predicted at twelve-plus miles per hour in Arizona, the 50 meter round could get interesting very quickly. Besides Wilde, there's a host of talent in the category. Look for Braden Gellenthien (College Station, Texas), who's just behind Wilde in the World Ranking, multi-time World Champion Dave Cousins (Standish, Maine), and Fierro, Jaime and Trillus to shake things up.
The excitement kicks off with qualifications on Friday, continues with team rounds on Saturday, and concludes with eliminations and medal matches on Sunday. Live scores will be online throughout the event at http://ianseo.net/Details.php?toId=373, and USA Archery will be carrying live updates and photos on Facebook and Twitter throughout the weekend. Daily wrap-ups and full photo galleries will be posted on http://www.usarchery.org each night.
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