PODCAST: Brady Ellison, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist

When it comes to Olympic recurve archery in the United States, Brady Ellison is the man everyone else has been chasing for the past decade.

Across the globe, he’s been one of the most consistent archers over that same period, competing in the last three Olympics and winning an unprecedented four World Cup Final titles.

What makes Ellison unique among the world’s best recurve archers is that he excels at all the disciplines – indoors, outdoors, field archery. And if he sticks to his current plans, you can count on adding 3-D archery with a compound bow to that list in a year or two, as well.

We sat down with Ellison at the U.S. Target Nationals tournament to talk about his impressive career, his new wife, his new clothing brand and the future of Olympic archery in the U.S., among other subjects.

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • How winning an individual Olympic medal differs from winning a team medal.
  • What cool things he’s gotten to do since winning the bronze in Rio.
  • Why the U.S. will have a hard time competing with the rest of the world if Olympic archers here don’t start earning decent money.
  • How he and his wife, Toja Ellison, push each other as professional archers.
  • What it was like spending a few days with the guys from Mythbusters building an “arrow machine gun.”
  • How 3-D archery might become part of his competition schedule in the future.

“Olympic archery in the U.S., I think we’re in trouble, to be honest,” Ellison said. “Until we can get target archery paid like 3Ds, I think we’re going to continue to lose shooters.”

Olympic Archery Explained: Draw Weight

There’s no question the archers who will compete in the Olympic games in Rio this summer are the best Olympic recurve archers their home countries have to offer.

They train hard, shooting their bows for many hours every day. And they’ve been doing that for years.

So it’s no stretch to think of these athletes as the strongest Olympic recurve archers in the world. That is, they are the archers who have the most finely-tuned archery muscles.

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Archery is known for using a unique combination of muscles in the back, arms, shoulders and core.

These Olympic competitors have to be shooting the bows with the heaviest draw weights of any archers, right?

Sixty, 70 pounds?

That is, after all, what we typically hear about in discussions of the upper end of draw weights in archery.

Guess again.

How about roughly 40-48 pounds for the women, and 45-55 pounds for the men.

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Brady Ellison, the top American male archer heading to Rio, typically draws 53 pounds. Mackenzie Brown, America’s only female archer competing in the games, draws 46.5 pounds.

Usually, when you hear discussions about draw weights pushing 70 pounds, the archers are talking about shooting compound bows.

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Regardless of the type of bow being shot, heavier draw weights allow for greater arrow speeds and flatter arrow trajectories. This can help an arrow cut through the wind with less drift and more accuracy.

In drawing an Olympic recurve bow, the draw weight actually gets heavier the farther the bow is drawn back. A 70-inch-long, takedown recurve bow – common among Olympic recurve competitors – reaches its marked draw weight when the archer draws the bow to 28 inches. So a bow that’s marked as having a 44-pound draw weight, hits that mark when the bowstring is pulled back 28 inches.

Some archers have long wingspans and draw lengths, drawing their bowstrings beyond 28 inches. Their bows continue to increase in draw weight by approximately 2-3 pounds per inch beyond 28 inches.

At full draw, Brady Ellison holds 53 pounds of tension on the first three fingers of his right hand.

Compound bows, on the other hand, have what’s called let-off. The bows, which employ grooved pulleys – called cams – and cables, reach their peak draw weights roughly halfway through the draw cycle. When the cam rolls over, the draw weight lets off, so the archer is holding significantly less poundage at full draw.

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Most modern compound bows have anywhere from 65-85 percent let-off. Using that range, an archer drawing a bow with a 70-pound draw weight would hold 24.5 – 10.5 pounds of string tension at full draw, thanks to the let-off.

And nearly all compound archers today are holding that weight with a mechanical release that’s either strapped to their wrist or held in their hand. Their fingers don’t touch the bowstring.

So while Olympic recurve archers typically do not draw as much weight as compound archers, they’re probably holding anywhere from two to five times more weight at full draw than most compound archers. And that’s when holding steady is most critical to accuracy.

A competitive Olympic recurve archer regularly trains by shooting an average of 300 arrows per day. The cumulative weight that’s drawn, held and release with their fingers is between 7 and 8 tons.

During an Olympic competition day, archers can shoot nearly 100 arrows between scoring and practice ends, totaling about 4,000 pounds of cumulative draw weight under the extreme stress of competition.

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Brady Ellison talks Olympics – past and present

His face is the face of U.S. Olympic archery.

There’s no mistaking who’s behind the bow, when you see the grimacing, whiskered jaw and the shaggy, dirty blond hair sticking out from beneath the curled brim of a baseball hat.

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Photo courtesy of Dean Alberga

Brady Ellison has been one of the most dominant Olympic recurve archers in the world over the past decade.

Hands down, he’s been the best the U.S. has had to offer.

As he prepares to represent the U.S. at a third-straight Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this summer, Ellison, 27, of Globe, Ariz., is shooting like a – well, like a champion.

Already this year, he won the Indoor Archery World Cup title in Las Vegas, a gold medal at the outdoor Medellin World Cup in Colombia and a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Turkey.

He’s currently ranked second in the world by World Archery – the governing body for archery across the globe.

Ellison seems to be preparing for the Rio games with a chip on his shoulder, and that’s understandable.

Despite lofty expectations, he didn’t win an individual medal at the 2012 London Olympics, when he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

And he and fellow Americans Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie had to settle for a team silver medal, after narrowly missing out on the gold on the last arrow of their match with eventual winner, Italy.

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U.S. Olympic silver medal team from 2012, from left, Jacob Wukie, Jake Kaminski and Brady Ellison.

LAS caught up with Ellison in May during the final stage of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Florida to talk about the London games, the upcoming games and about the overall Olympic experience.

Here’s what he had to say:

LAS: How do you mentally prepare for an event as large as the Olympics? How does that differ from other competitions?

BE: This year, I’ve been shooting in every major competition that I can to be ready.  There is no practice that can simulate what an archer goes through mentally during a match with top competition.  Other than the increased tournament schedule, I prepare mentally like any other international World Archery event.

LAS: What was your toughest moment of the 2012 games and why?

BE:  Without a doubt, the instant that Michele Frangilli shot that last 10 to seal Italy’s gold medal win against us.  It ended our dream of an Olympic Gold Medal in London.

(Watch the entire gold medal match here. The final end of that match begins at the 21-minute mark, with Frangilli releasing the winning arrow at 22:50.)

LAS: What was something that surprised you about winning a medal? Is it different being on an Olympic podium than other podiums?

BE:  Yes, it’s much different from any other competition.  In my opinion, an Olympic medal – especially gold – validates me as an athlete at the absolute pinnacle of his sport.

LAS: What was it like coming back home as Olympic silver medalists?

BE: It was great coming home to people who were happy and celebrating our success in bringing home Olympic silver medals for Team USA, after feeling disappointed in just missing out on the gold to Italy.

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LAS: Where do you keep your medal? Do you take it out to show people?

BE: My medal is kept at various, undisclosed and secure locations as there have been Olympians who have had their medals stolen.  I take it out to show people at events when they ask for me to have it available.

LAS: Track and field tends to dominate the summer Olympics. Do you feel like there was good recognition of your achievement by the U.S.?

BE:  USA Archery and our Olympic archery team got great coverage and recognition leading up to and during the games.  I was glad to see that for our sport.  After the competition, there was much less coverage for Archery in the U.S. because the U.S. Olympic Committee focuses largely on gold medals won, with not nearly as much emphasis on silver or bronze.

LAS: For the 2016 Olympic team, is there anything that you will change from 2012 about how you compete or how you enjoy your time at the Olympics?

BE:  I’ve learned to trust myself more with the additional four years of experience and confidence that it brings.  I can focus more clearly now than I’ve ever been able to.

I won’t agree to every media request like I did in London, as it was really hectic and stressful.  I’ll do interviews for the major outlets, and for those who I know will do a great job for our sport.

LAS: Did attending the Olympics change your view of the world?

BE:  No, but it reaffirmed my faith in people.  Ten thousand athletes, coaches and support people can gather in one place with a single goal of athletic competition that rises above all politics.

LAS: What are some of the perks to being an Olympic athlete?

BE: The benefits are mostly that of personal accomplishment – not financial or material things, although once I was recognized and got out of a speeding ticket.

LAS: What was it like to be surrounded by so many world-class athletes for a couple weeks?

BE:  One of the Olympic experiences that will always be with me is the incredible amount of respect that all of the Olympic athletes had for each other. It didn’t matter what sport – everyone there knew that you were the best of the best in your particular sport and we all gave and got the same respect as LeBron James, or any  other professional or elite athlete.

LAS: What is one piece of advice you’d give a young person who aspires to be an Olympic archer or athlete?

BE:  The harder you work, the greater your success.  It takes years of dedication to work harder than anyone else to become a world-class archer.  Accept your bad days with a very short memory, but learn from them as you are inspired to work even harder.

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Brady Ellison and coach Mel Nichols will be in Rio together this summer for the 2016 Olympics.

Hard work can certainly be bolstered by great archery gear. Check out Brady’s equipment list here.

Olympic archers hunting deer with Lancaster Archery Supply featured in Petersen’s Bowhunting

Petersen’s Bowhunting features in its January/February 2016 issue an article about four elite archers bowhunting for deer together in Ohio with the Lancaster Archery Supply team.

(Check it out here.)

The hunters included Brady Ellison, Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie, who together represented the U.S. during the 2012 Olympics in London, where they captured the team silver medal. They were joined by Lancaster Archery Supply TechXPert Dan Schuller, who narrowly missed out on making that team.

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All four Olympic recurve archers are in the running to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

Written by Jon Silks, the article chronicles a week of hunting by these men in 2014 at Lancaster Archery Supply’s Wild Ohio Whitetails farm, while also giving individual profiles of each archer.

It includes commentary from LAS president Rob Kaufhold, who brought the athletes together to enjoy two passions they all share – archery and hunting deer.

The magazine is available on newsstands now.