LONDON — Italy’s Michele Frangilli stood on the field of the Lord’s Cricket Ground poised with the final arrow aimed at the target. If he hit a bull’s eye — a 10 — Italy would win its first Olympic gold medal in team archery. If he missed, the U.S. would win.
Nearby, Team USA archers Jake Kaminski, Jacob Wukie, and Brady Ellison stood with their arms around each others’ shoulders, a band of brothers as Ellison has long described them.
“We were just hoping for the best,” said Kaminski. “We were not hoping negatively for anybody because we don’t like to do that. We were just waiting. Whatever fell into our laps, we were going to accept it.”
The 36-year-old Italian archer hit the 10. But silver medals were just as shiny for the much younger American “brothers.”
It was USA Archery’s first Olympic medal since 2000. And it was Team USA’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“It’s a great honor,” said Ellison, fresh from the podium. “Hopefully, it’s a good sign for a great games for the U.S., and we’re happy to be the front runners, to lead the charge.”
The U.S. team’s path to an Olympic medal began not after the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where Ellison finished 27th, but in 2006 when Coach KiSik Lee came to the U.S. from his native South Korea after a stint coaching in Australia. USA Archery’s first national coach, Coach Lee brought a method of shooting to the team. His method relies on biomechanics so the archer can focus on proper technique and a repeatable process, allowing them to better handle the pressure of competition.
At age 17, Ellison moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, in January 2006 to train with Lee. Others followed, including Kaminski and Wukie, now ages 23 and 26, respectively. Their friendship grew, and they have shared an apartment together over the past six years — eating, sleeping, and shooting together, said Ellison.
Coach Lee sees their camaraderie and friendship as a key to the team’s success. In previous years, U.S. archers trained at home with their own coaches, then met at competitions and “tried to match up as a team,” said Lee.
“Being so close, we developed that camaraderie,” said Wukie. “We’ve built it up over the years, and it really makes a difference in being able to go out there and trust each other.”
In 2008, Ellison won his first World Cup medal, and the team began to build on his success. Ellison is now the top-ranked archer in the world. They had a minor setback at the 2011 World Championships last July, where they hoped to medal. But they met their main goal of qualifying a full team for the 2012 Olympics. Then at a World Cup in June 2012, Ellison, Kaminski, and Wukie knew they were on target when they took gold at a World Cup in Ogden, Utah.
On the eve of the London Olympics, the American archers repeatedly said that they had no expectations other than to have fun at these Games, that it was already a successful Olympics before the torch was even lit.
“I’m on a team with two of my best friends,” said Ellison. “We’re having fun, we’re all healthy, we’re just going out there shooting and having fun. I believe God gives us the medals. If he wants us to win, we’ll go out there and win. If not, we’re going to put on a heck of a show and shoot the best we can.”
And a heck of a show it was. In the quarterfinal, the U.S. guys started off slowly against Japan. But the close match did not seem to faze them. They high-fived after each one shot a 10, and the team came out on top.
The semifinal, however, did not look good. Their opponent: three-time defending Olympic champion South Korea.
“Every reporter that came up to talk to us said, ‘Korea is impossible to beat, do you guys think you can do it?,’” said Ellison. “So the media helped us be like, ‘Yah, we can. Quit telling us we can’t.’”
Again, the three Americans started the match slowly, falling two points behind the Koreans. But they read the wind conditions well and communicated. With the focus of superheroes about to take out the enemy, Kaminski and Wukie shot 10s in the final three rounds.
“We went out as a team, performed as a team, and supported each other all the way through,” said Wukie. “We built each other up.”
Against Italy in the final, the archers faced swirly winds that made the flag clips clang against the poles above the stadium. The Americans’ arrows came ever so close to the dessert-plate-sized bulls’ eye several times. By the end of four (of eight) rounds, they were four points behind Italy.
Again, they came back, Kaminski and Wukie finding the 10 again and again. Until the final arrow for Kaminski. It felt good when it left his bow, but the wind switched and pushed it out right on the 8 ring.
“I wish it could have been a 10 like it was the match before with Korea,” said Kaminski. “But it was still great that we came away with a medal.”
The U.S. women compete tomorrow in the team competition at the Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.