Call it a breakthrough moment for recurve archer Eliana Claps, who showed nerves of steel last May while qualifying for her first senior world championships.
The 18-year-old Claps, from Everett, Washington, who had previously represented the U.S. at the junior world championships, was tied for the third and final world team spot during qualifying, and remained tied during a shoot-off, requiring a winner-take-all sixth arrow to break the tie.
That extra bit of mental concentration helped Claps become the youngest member of the three-woman recurve team representing Team USA at the World Archery Championships that will be held Oct. 15-22 in Mexico City.
“I didn’t know I qualified until the very last shot, a one-arrow shoot-off,” Claps said. “We both shot 6s in our shoot-off, but my arrow was that much closer.”
She is joined on the U.S. women’s squad by Olympians Khatuna Lorig, 43, and Mackenzie Brown, 22.
“I know them, but we all live in different places,” Claps said. “We’ve talked. Khatuna has been really nice and welcoming. They both have. Because I’m the youngest, it’s easier to take me under their wing because this is all new to me.”
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This past April, Claps won the junior indoor national championships, finishing behind only Lorig and Brown in the open classification. Both archers have given her some solid advice since then.
“The main thing they’ve told me is to just relax,” Claps said. “Even though this has a big title — the world championships — you still have to shoot like it’s a practice, and we’re all part of a team. We don’t have to be perfect; we just have to be consistent.”
Claps has plenty of experience in search of that Zen-like calmness. She reads a variety of sports psychology and mental management books and takes notes, which bodes especially well for the psychology major at the University of Washington.
“That’s part of the process for getting ready,” she said, “but not for competing.”
For competitions, Claps plugs in her headphones and listens to an eclectic mix of classic rock, alternative and whatever else is on her playlist while she warms up with stretch bands, preparing both her mind and her body.
The senior world experience may be new to Claps, but she has international experience under her belt, having competed at the junior worlds in 2015 as well as the world cup in Berlin this past August. She also qualified for the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014, but the U.S. didn’t send any archers.
A left-handed shooter, Claps picked up the bow as a youngster, first to emulate her dad, Tom, in hunting, and then as a family shooting affair with mom Mira, younger sister Alexa and younger brother Jadon.
Claps cites three-time U.S. Olympian Jennifer Nichols Hardy as one of her inspirations.
“She was always positive,” Claps said, “yet competing against you, it was all business. I really admire that. I heard about her when I was younger and I aspire to be like her. Now I want to take some of the best of her and be me. I want to take bits and pieces of other archers and then be me.”
In order to maintain a training schedule and be available for a heavy competition schedule, Claps was homeschooled, taking some college-level courses the past two years before graduating in the spring. She’s now enrolled full time at Washington but took a lighter course load this semester in order to compete at the world championships.
For worlds, scoring won’t be her primary focus.
“Often times, you get tripped up thinking about your score instead of your shots,” Claps said. “I’m trying to focus less on expectations for my score and more on each shot. I know that if I can keep each shot especially strong, the score will come.”
She said she’s embracing the idea of being on the world stage, competing against the world’s best archers.
“I’m looking forward to learning how to be a better competitor from them,” Claps said. “I just want to say how blessed I am to be here, and I’m excited to have this opportunity and to see what I can do.”
Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.