Brady Ellison shoots at the Archery World Cup on June 25, 2017 in Salt Lake City.
In April, Brady Ellison finished second at the first Archery World Cup of the season in Shanghai. Two months later, he and Mackenzie Brown won a mixed team gold in recurve at the world cup stop in Salt Lake City.
Yet despite those highs, the veteran archer who will turn 30 in October has had a frustrating year.
“I’ve actually been kind of struggling,” said Ellison, a three-time Olympian. “I was able to make the World Cup Final again, and I feel it was kind of a blessing that I made it.”
The frustrations stem from a nagging finger injury that first flared in 2012 but has gotten worse, dogging him through 2017 and this year.
Ellison, ranked No. 7 in the world in recurve, hasn’t been able to put in the hours of practice he did in previous years, and he hasn’t had the consistency in competitions. Of late the finger issue — doctors believe it’s a nerve problem on the middle finger of his shooting hand — seems to have gotten a bit better, he says, so he’s hopeful he can regain his rhythm and finish this year with a flourish.
That flourish got some momentum last month, when Ellison won the men’s recurve national title, and continues this week at the Archery World Cup Final in Turkey.
Once the outdoor season is over, he’s hopeful he can take some time off to allow the finger to rest and heal. He’s even backed off practicing for stretches this season because of the discomfort.
“It’s awful,” he said. “You know, my technique … I’m still strong enough to do it, but I make a lot more mistakes. I’ll have a couple of really good ends (rounds) and then I’ll make some mistakes and have bad ends, and when you get into head-to-heads, if you make a mistake you’re kind of done. I’ve just had too many of those.”
For years, Ellison has been at the top of his craft. He won an individual bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and has team silver medals from the 2016 and 2012 Games. He has 11 combined individual and team medals in the world indoor and outdoor championships since 2011. He also ranked No. 1 in the world from 2011 to 2013.
So, despite the injury, Ellison always believes he’s one tournament away from locking in. When asked what his expectations are, he laughed.
“Kind of the same as always,” he said. “I want to win it. You know, always want to win it. I hope to get on the podium. At this point in time, being as fortunate as I have been with the career that I’ve had, you’re always wanting to — and half-expecting to — win everything you go to, but it just hasn’t been happening for me lately.
“That expectation is there and I know if I make a good run that I’m still good enough to be able to go do it.”
Lately, he’s been encouraged. He’s been working on different hand positioning on the string this year to take away some of the finger pain and said he’s starting to shoot more consistently with it.
“I’ve actually had some really good practice days,” he said, noting that one day he shot a world record in practice. So, he knows he can still perform.
“If I could just stay consistent and use my experience and be smart about things and not make mistakes, I’ll be pretty good,” he added.
Looking further ahead, Ellison is aiming for the 2019 world championships and then the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. At those events, he’s hoping to not only do well in individual and team competitions, but to have the chance to compete in the mixed team competition (for now, the top-ranked man on the U.S. team is paired with the top-ranked woman). At the 2013 worlds, Ellison and Khatuna Lorig won silver. Lately, he’s combined with Brown to have success.
Mixed team archery will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and Ellison would love to be a part of it.
“I think it’s a big step for sports,” he said. “There’s not a lot of mixed team events in the Games … Not a lot of sports where men and women compete together on the same field as a team. I think that’s good for sports and the future to have that. I think it’s cool in archery when you see men and women shoot together. It showcases how good the women are, too, because a lot of times they outshoot the men.”
But, 2020 is a ways away. Ellison wants to fight through the finger problem, end this season on a high note, get some rest and start working toward a solid 2019 — with the Games beyond that. He’s still confident.
“This year has been one of my worst years and I was still able to make a World Cup Final, which is the top seven guys,” he said. “So I’m still hanging in there. I just know if I could get this turned around, you know, I think I could be the No. 1 guy in the world again.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.