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The final target is finally in view for the top U.S. recurve archers.
In a process that's spanned eight and a half months and three time zones, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials come to an end with the third stage Sunday and Monday in Newberry, Florida.
When all is complete, three U.S. men and one U.S. woman will move on to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, although two more women could be added if the team qualifies at an upcoming event.
"It's definitely a long haul, and going into this last event I'm going to keep my focus the same as the last and try to make the best shots I can," said Mackenzie Brown, a 21-year-old from Flint, Texas, who won the first two women's stages.
"There's definitely a lot of emotions and everyone has those going into the last trials."
On the men's side, Zach Garrett and two-time Olympian Brady Ellison split the first two rounds, which were held over 2015 Labor Day weekend in College Station, Texas, and then in April in Chula Vista, California. Open to any American of qualifying age, round one cut the field to 16 men and 16 women, and those groups were cut in half in stage two. Scores are cumulative through the three rounds.
While the women battle for the single individual quota spot in Florida, the men are competing to be one of the three who will compete both individually and as a team in Rio. Through two rounds, Ellison leads the men's group with 86 points, while Garrett goes in with 74.5 points and 2012 Olympian Jake Kaminski has 62.5. Others in the field are 2012 Olympian Jacob Wukie, and Daniel McLaughlin, Sean McLaughlin, Collin Klimitchek and Thomas Stanwood.
Ellison, Kaminski and Wukie won team silver at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Ellison was also the top-ranked archer going into the 2012 Games and the favorite to win gold but ultimately finished tied for 17th.
"In London I just shot bad and got beat," Ellison said at the College Station trials. "My best chance of medaling individually was probably in Beijing."
After the London Games Ellison fractured a bone in his right hand the next year. Some people said he was in a slump, but he maintained a top-10 world ranking and had the third-highest score (697) in history earlier this season at the Shanghai World Cup, then won gold at the world cup in Medellin, Colombia.
"I think he's the most talented archer in the world," said Kisik Lee, USA Archery's national team coach. "He's worked hard to be in the shape he's in to get to Rio and maybe win gold in 2016."
Brown has a comfortable lead going into the final stage, with 77 points to Hye Youn Park's 69.5. Other archers in the women's competition are Ariel Gibilaro, LaNola Pritchard, Lauren Clamon, Erin Mickelberry, five-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig and Heather Koehl.
Though the American women didn't initially qualify as a team, the top three finishers from the trials will compete at a world cup in Turkey next month, where the team could earn a berth to the Games.
Lorig, 42, said she still feels like a kid when she lines up to shoot. She recently posted on her Facebook page:
"I love this sport. When I get on the line I feel like I'm still 18 years old. No matter what happens in '16, you can count on me bringing my best in '20 and '24."
Brown said anything can happen during a competition and that archery "has its ups and downs."
"It's just like other sports when some people can perform on some days and other people perform on other days," Brown said. "I like to focus on what I can control. The emotions I can control. I've worked hard to get where I'm at and I've devoted myself to get to my first Olympic Games."
Scott McDonald has 18 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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