If you like your Olympic medalists as American as apple pie, you’d better get ready to cheer for Brady Ellison.
Ellison, 26, already has one Olympic silver medal, and he’s trying to earn a spot on what would be his third Olympic team.
To punch his ticket to Rio 2016, Ellison must dig deep for the same qualities that won him three World Cup Final titles. After all, he is competing in one of the world’s toughest fields. Sixteen American men are vying for three spots on Team USA, and Ellison is currently ranked third with two Olympic trial events to go.
The road to the Olympic Games has been somewhat unconventional for Ellison. He got his start with a compound bow, but compounds aren’t yet permitted in the Olympics. Ellison still hunts with a compound bow, a piece of his bowhunting heritage he proudly claims.
As a teenager, Ellison was a talented archer with his compound bow, scoring gold medals at the World Championships. But when a bowstring failed at a training camp, he came to a crossroads. His mother, Julie, explained the situation on his website:
“Brady was shooting his compound bow when his string broke. He did not have a bow to shoot, so he picked up a friend’s recurve bow and shot that. Brady called home, explaining what happened with his bowstring and that he had shot a recurve. His question was, ‘What do you think about me switching to recurve and going for the Olympics?’ Everyone was 100 percent behind his decision to switch.”
That was one of Ellison’s easier challenges, however. Ellison, who was born with a hip problem called Perthes disease, had to overcome complications from the rare condition, including surgery after his first Olympics in 2008. By 2010, fully recovered, he started winning and never looked back. World Cup after World Cup, Ellison delivered gold after gold, leading some to speculate that he might be one of history’s best archers.
“I think he’s the most talented archer in the world,” said KiSik Lee, the U.S. national head coach, in a recent interview with TeamUSA.org. “He’s worked hard to be in the shape he’s in to get to Rio and maybe win gold in 2016.”
With the world watching, Ellison scored the No. 1 spot in the 2012 Olympic Team Trials, and headed to London with “medal contender” expectations. Although he helped propel his team to a hard-fought semifinal victory over powerhouse Korea and win Olympic silver in a matchup with Italy, Ellison fell short in individual competition.
“In London, I just shot bad and got beat,” Ellison said. “My best chance of medaling individually was probably in Beijing (in 2008).”
After 2012, some observers speculated that Ellison was in a slump, but he quickly corrects such assumptions. “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,” he said. “I don’t consider it a slump at all.”
Ellison started 2013 with a fractured right hand, but that didn’t stop him from from winning a gold medal while wearing a cast. “I competed in another (event) one or two weeks later, and competed in four tournaments with a broken hand,” he said. In fact, he went on to win a World Games title and a team World Championship that year.
Since then, he collected his third World Cup Final title, another World Championships gold, and a Pan Am Games silver. But he’s taking it all in stride.
“You have to stay focused, and you have to keep practicing,” he said. “Any extra pressure you put on yourself is going to hurt you.”