European Games Champion lauds team culture and value of world-class practice-mates

Slovenia’s Toja Ellison became European Games Champion in Minsk just a week ago when she beat newly crowned World Archery Champion Natalia Avdeeva in a shoot-off, landing a 10 to her Russian opponent’s eight.

It was a win she’s been waiting for, for quite some time.

“This season I’ve been shooting so good, I know I’ve been shooting better than I ever have and nobody can’t take that away from me no matter how I’m placing,” said Toja.

“I knew at the worlds I could win it, at world cups I know that I can win them, and I knew there [in Minsk] that I could win it. I was just patient, kept doing what I’m doing, and my time came.”

Toja has been a consistent top-10 finisher at international events throughout her career. She’s not recorded regular podiums – but she has had some important ones.

As well as this European Games title, she holds a world field crown, came runner-up at the World Games, has five individual medals on the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit and many more from other international events.

Minsk was the first European Games to feature a compound competition.

The event was held with an Olympic-style schedule in which every eliminations match took place individually in the arena. At most internationals, the early phases of matchplay are held together on the eliminations field.

“It was a different experience, for sure, because it was a multisport event. The compound was there for the first time and being the first winner is cool. There was so much media from Slovenia, and they were making a big deal about it, so I just enjoyed it,” said Toja.

“Even though I really liked it, for me it was super stressful with everything under cameras. We are not used to shooting matches that are one by one. I was just like ‘why am I nervous, I’m shooting good, there’s no reason to be nervous’, but I was more nervous than I’m usually.”

Despite the immediate importance of this new trophy to her collection, the 25-year-old is still working out how it fits into her archery career.

“It feels bigger in way that you have to qualify, not everyone was allowed to be there, but other than that, I don’t think my brain has figured that out quite yet. For me is just a win,” she said.

Married to reigning World Archery Champion and three-time Olympic medallist Brady Ellison of the USA, who’s arguably having the best season of his career in 2019, Toja said her husband has given her a big push towards being the best.

The couple is now training at the Chula Vista centre in San Diego, California – rather than at home in Arizona – so that Brady can be closer to the other members of his USA squad.  

“Hanging out with champions makes you feel like you are halfway there, in a way. It’s just the way they think, and I also think because of how happy we are,” said Toja. “He works hard, I work hard. When he’s lazy, I push him and when I’m lazy, although that doesn’t happen very often, he pushes me. We are a team.”

Chula Vista, she said, is more similar to her native Slovenia than the state of Arizona.

After 13 years in the sport, the world number 12 said the atmosphere at the centre has given her an almost renewed sense of enthusiasm and comfort in the sport.

“I still love it, I love it more than when I started. I have so much drive and motivation to do it. There’s almost not a single day when I’m like ‘oh, I hate archery, I don’t want to do it’,” she said.

“You are all the time in that competition setting, practising competition and I just love archery, waking up every day and shoot.”

The fourth and last stage of the 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup is underway in Berlin. It’s the last chance for archers to qualify for this year’s circuit final in Moscow – and Toja wants one of those spots.

“I need another decent tournament and I have exactly the same attitude as always. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll trust that what I’m doing is enough and trust the plan that is there for me,” she said. “I hope it goes through, but if no, I just want to keep working towards being the best.”

Because, despite the medal success, Toja’s goals in the sport go far beyond merely climbing the podium.

“We get caught in this material life that we leave, and we just see archery as medals or winnings, but in the end is so much more than just that,” she said. “It’s a journey that’s making us better people, making us stronger and teaching us all kind of lessons for life and I’m always trying to see that as well, not just the training-to-win part.”

The fourth stage of the 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup takes place on 1-7 July in Berlin, Germany.