Braden Gellenthien at the Hyundai Archery World Cup 2018 on July 21, 2018 in Berlin.
As a veteran compound archery competitor, Braden Gellenthien realizes that you must stay focused, take one step at a time and not get ahead of yourself to be successful.
His next step will be representing the U.S. at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games in Peru this summer, when compound archery makes its debut in the multi-sport competition.
And then, perhaps, that will open the door to the Olympic Games, where only recurve archery is on the program.
“I am extremely excited,” said Gellenthien, who has been competing internationally since 2002. “Ever since I started compound archery, there’s been talk of one day we’ll be in the Olympics. I really believe that this step being introduced into the Pan American Games in Peru is a massive step in that direction. Everyone keeps saying that it’s a step before the Olympics. It’s really an honor to be the representative for the U.S. in this event.”
It would be too late to include compound in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, for which the program is already finalized, though Gellenthien said he’s optimistic the 2024 Games in Paris might be on the table.
Of course, the Boston native isn’t looking that far ahead. His immediate next target, so to speak, is the Archery World Cup this week in Medellin, Colombia.
The big goal for 2019, however, is the Pan Am Games, where the archery competition runs from Aug. 7-11.
Gellenthien, who will turn 33 on April 26, joins Paige Pearce in the compound competition.
“My intentions are to win the events. To do that I need to focus on so many other things,” he said. “I’m definitely expecting or hoping for a podium if not a win.”
Just qualifying for Lima was an arduous task.
“It was insane,” Gellenthien said.
The process included three competitions, and after shooting almost 400 arrows during qualification, the Pan Am slot wasn’t decided until the last match.
“The intensity and the strength of our team is probably one of the strongest teams we’ve had in 10 years,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
Gellenthien, who started archery at 11 at a Cub Scout camp, said he was “terrible” at it, but that “it was a lot of fun.” He told his parents that he discovered “a new awesome sport called archery.” He wound up shooting with his father in a father-son Sunday league.
Four years later, Gellenthien worked with renowned archery coach Terry Wunderle.
“He said, ‘Braden, unless you make some massive changes to your form and technique, you’re going to be out of the sport in six months,’” Gellenthien said. “I’d been doing it for four years at that point. I figured I knew what any 15-year-old knew, which is everything, and didn’t listen.”
Six months later, a frustrated Gellenthien took a break before a friend talked him into shooting arrows again.
“I rediscovered all that passion that I had before,” he said. “I called the coach back and told him I was ready to make changes. I made the changes that he suggested and the sky’s the limit at that point. I went to the national championships three months after we started working together. I won the junior division. Within two years I was on the senior national team. I basically never looked back since that day.”
Much to the chagrin of his competitors.
At 16, Gellenthien finished third at the world championships.
“That was the moment when I really realized I could do this full time and that I was not only one of the best juniors in the country, but one of the best adults in the world,” he said. “That was when my focus shifted from archery as a really great hobby to being a possible career, long term.”
The wins started to pile up, as he now has 12 total world championships medals (three as an individual), plus 61 more on the world cup circuit.
Of those, his silver medal at the 2012 world cup final stands out.
“That was really a big event for me,” Gellenthien said. “My friend had passed away earlier in the year, one of my really good friends in the sport. I felt like I was shooting for myself and for him. The peace that I had mentally and the success that I found was really an amazing cap for my season but a great way to honor one of the biggest influences of my life. So, that was huge.”
Just as winning at the Pan American Games and competing at the Olympics one day would be.
Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.