Brady Ellison competing at the men's recurve finals during the S-Hertogenbosch 2019 World Archery Championships on June 16, 2019 in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.
It’s been a long time coming for Brady Ellison. After winning the men’s recurve archery world title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, earlier this month, the three-time Olympian finally has the world title he’s long been seeking. He is also now No. 1 in the world – for the first time in six years.
World Archery hosts major world championships for able-bodied archers: field, indoor and outdoor. All three are prestigious in their own right, but a lot of focus gets placed on the outdoor championships, which feature the style of archery seen at the Olympic Games.
Brady Ellison has medaled at all of them.
Throughout his career, Ellison has amassed a number of medals, including three Olympic medals, and two individual golds at the field championships that are among his 14 world championships medals he held prior to this month. He also owns more than 60 world cup medals. But an individual gold medal at the outdoor championships remained elusive.
Ellison, who made his outdoor world championships debut in 2007, got close in 2011 when he reached the semifinal round, but he missed out on the championship match by about an eighth of an inch during a shoot-off. He ended up with bronze.
Eight years later, Ellison, 30, is the world champion in men’s recurve, though it didn’t come easy.
After advancing to the final, Ellison was matched up with Malaysia’s Khairul Anuar Mohamad. Although Khairul sat outside the top 20 of the world rankings at the time, Ellison knew that the Malaysian would be a formidable opponent after watching him shoot during practice.
Sure enough, it took all Ellison had to keep up with his hot-shooting counterpart. Through the first three sets, neither one could break the deadlock. Ellison grabbed the fourth set, but Khairul responded by taking the fifth set, which sent the final to a one-arrow shoot-off.
“I knew if I shot a 10 in that shoot-off, I was going to win the match and I wouldn’t have to shoot a second arrow,” Ellison said.
Because he’d been shooting high, Ellison felt confident that he could hit the center of the target by just aiming low. And that’s what happened in that shoot-off. Ellison shot a perfect 10-point arrow that earned him the victory — and the world title along with it.
It was a monumental victory for Ellison, but also a historic moment. No American had won an individual outdoor world title in recurve archery since Rick McKinney last did it in 1985.
Ellison’s initial reaction: shock.
“Not shocked that I shot good enough to (win),” he clarified. “It’s just that it’s been a long time. I’ve been chasing that. I’ve been such a high-level competitor in this sport for so long that to finally get it was just kind of a shock.”
It would be a while before Ellison could process the victory, as he had to attend to media obligations immediately after the match.
“I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t call anyone,” he said. “I had to keep my emotions in check to get through interviews.”
By the time he got his phone back, Ellison had already received about 10 missed calls from his wife, Toja.
Toja — a Slovenian archer whom he met at a world cup event in 2014 — was unable to witness the moment in person, but she had a good reason. She’d had to leave for Belarus to compete at the European Games. (And less than two weeks later, she would find herself winning a gold medal in women’s compound archery at that event).
To put it in perspective, Ellison ranks this world title above the individual bronze medal he won at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
“Olympic medals are amazing, and they can never take that away from you,” said Ellison, who also won Olympic team silver medals in 2012 and ’16. “But I think individually for me, becoming a world champion, I’ve had more feedback, more people reaching out to me to tell me ‘congrats’ than I did for any of my Olympic medals.”
The celebration was low-key: Dinner at a Chinese restaurant with a small crew, followed by an attempt to do some homework. (Ellison’s currently pursuing a business degree in his spare time through DeVry University).
“I just kind of wanted to soak this in,” he said, “and try to figure out how to do statistics.”
Ellison’s victory now has him atop the world rankings in men’s recurve for the first time since 2013. He’s been on a hot streak all season long, having won two of three world cup events and taking bronze at the other.
Ellison credits his recent success to the fact that this is the first season in a while he’s been injury-free. A nagging finger injury in his shooting hand bugged him for a number of years but was especially prohibitive during the last two seasons.
For a long time, none of the doctors Ellison visited were able to figure out exactly what the issue was. He finally had a breakthrough after his wife found a bioenergetic therapist in Slovenia, and he says that the injury is now fully healed.
It’s enabled Ellison to resume the training needed for him to compete at an elite level. He’s back to 50 hours a week of shooting and four days a week in the gym.
With the finger issue resolved, the results are coming for Ellison. And the timing could hardly be better, as the Tokyo Olympics are just a year away. In fact, his performance in the Netherlands earned the U.S. its first men’s quota spot for the archery competition in Tokyo.
Ellison has made the last three Olympic teams and has three medals — so far. Now that he’s crossed this world title off his list, his next big goal is very clear.
“Now I need that Olympic gold medal,” he told media immediately after winning worlds. “I need a gold. Yes, I want that Olympic gold and I’m going to get it next year.”