Shut out of Olympic medals in women’s archery since 1976, Team USA may have found a combination of an experienced veteran and two young hotshots to end the slump.
Although the U.S. women’s team still needs to qualify for next year’s Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, Sunday’s double victory at Wroclaw, Poland, in the third event of the annual four-stop Archery World Cup is giving some reason to take a closer look to the United States.
“I believe we’re doing well as a team, finally breaking that barrier that we’ve been under for a little while,” said Mackenzie Brown, who won the women’s individual recurve event and also was key in the team recurve victory. “We’re finally having success with our team. It’s been lot of hard work to get there.”
The United States is the second-most successful country in Olympic archery, behind only South Korea, with 14 gold medals and 31 overall. South Korea has won 19 gold and 34 overall medals. However, Korea has won all of its medals since 1972, when archery was reintroduced to the Games after a 52-year absence, while Team USA has won nine gold medals and 13 total during that time.
At this past weekend’s world cup in Poland, the United States won four recurve medals.
U.S. hopes have been raised by Sunday’s results, which included Team USA’s first women’s team gold in the world cup since the series began in 2006. Besides Brown, American ambitions were increased by a winning trio that included Olympic veteran Khatuna Lorig, who competed for the Unified Team in 1992 and won a team bronze medal in Barcelona, and at 41 has been to five Olympic Games; and fellow 20-year-old teammate LaNola Pritchard, the reigning two-time national indoor champion.
It wasn’t Brown’s first world cup title, however. Having been on the senior national team since 2013, she claimed a mixed team world cup victory last year with Brady Ellison, an Olympic team silver medalist and three-time individual world cup final winner. Brown also took silver this year at the World Junior Championships.
Whether it was gymnastics — “like every other little girl” — swimming or softball, Brown has always been “super competitive” at sports. She was drawn to archery not by watching Errol Flynn in old Robin Hood movies but rather a program in her school when she was 10. After she picked up a bow and arrow, Brown discovered she had a knack for it.
“(My parents) were a little thrown off because it was archery,” Brown admits. “My dad competitively shot rifle, pistol and things like that. But never bow and arrow.”
In Clint, Texas, a town of less than 1,000 people on the Mexican border just south of El Paso, “It was more popular for hunting with archery,” she said.
Although Team USA has already earned one individual spot in women’s archery in Rio, the American women still have to qualify as a team. They’ll have a last-chance opportunity to do so in 2016, but the battle to fill the single quota spot begins Sept. 3-7 at the first of three U.S. Olympic Team Trials events, this one at Texas A&M University. The top ranked U.S. archer after the three events will earn that quota spot.
It will be a shift in focus for the archers, who will go from competing as teammates to competing against each other.
“Archery is usually thought of as an individual sport,” Brown said. “If you’re going at each other’s throats, it’s a little difficult at trials: everybody is out for one spot. But one of the goals is not to compete against each other, but to compete together as a team.”
It’s been a helpful dynamic with Brown’s more outgoing personality and Lorig’s more reserved demeanor.
“She’s given me a lot of guidance,” Brown said. “We get along really well. We hang out all the time. I get to pick her brain, ‘What it’s like going into this competition?’”
After Texas, Brown will immediately head to the fourth world cup stop in Medellin, Colombia, where it will be back to the team mindset and the drive to qualify for the world cup final in Mexico City in late October.
“When I’m covering someone else’s back, I do really well as a team member,” she said. “At other competitions, national ranking events, it’s more individual. But at the world cup, you’re sitting right next to your teammates, you’re best chances are as a team. We encourage each other.”
And with enough camaraderie, a trip to Rio and Olympic glory may come with it.
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.