The Gellenthiens looking for improvement on early World Cup success

Braden and Tanja Gellenthien shoot at the Sud de France – Nimes Archery Tournament in 2020.

Braden Gellenthien couldn’t help but find himself personally invested in the outcome of last month’s compound women’s gold medal match at the first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup.

Awaiting his turn at the competition stage in Guatemala City, the compound archer from the USA watched as his wife, Denmark’s Tanja Gellenthien, lost by the slimmest of margins to Colombia’s Nora Valdez, whose single-arrow shoot-off landed closest to the centre of the target. 

“It felt like I went through the entire range of emotions with her,” Braden said. “I was probably more nervous watching her compete than when I was out there.”

Gellenthien compared watching his wife compete to following his favourite sports team. 

“I’m a TV yeller, absolutely,” he said. “Armchair quarterback all the way.”

But unlike most sports fans, Gellenthien was forced to quickly transition from spectator to participant, replacing his wife on the shooting line moments after her loss for his own shot at a gold medal in the compound men’s final. 

“Earlier in my career, in that situation, I would have been affected by it,” said Gellenthien, who avenged Tanja’s loss with a 148-146 victory over reigning circuit champion Mike Schloesser, who is coincidentally in an archery power couple of his own. 

“Now, my entire shot process, my subconscious – I have so many tools to bring myself to the mental state I need to be in when I shoot,” he said. “When I went out there, it was a complete mind erase and I was ready to go.”

Braden Gellenthien shoots during the gold medal match of the first stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Guatemala City.

Married in October 2020, the Gellenthiens have learned to navigate the delicate balance between supporting each other’s careers while focusing on their individual pursuits. An intransigent ability to compartmentalise is critical to any archer’s success, Tanja said. The couple – like the recurve champions in Guatemala City, Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari – finds strength in a shared dedication to their craft. 

The result is a partnership that is bolstered by a mutual understanding of the singular focus their sport requires. Anchored by their common goals, Tanja and Braden give each other the permission to train and prepare as they each see fit.

“I think archery definitely makes our relationship stronger because we’ve seen each other in every type of situation,” Tanja said. “We get to see all of each other’s emotions, and we really get to learn and know each other in different ways than you normally would in a relationship.”

Braden relayed a story from last week’s Gator Cup – a US team qualifier – where an equipment issue sparked a brief but potent moment of frustration. 

The couple parted ways after Guatemala City, with Tanja returning to her home in Denmark while Braden convened with his teammates in Florida.

“I was on my phone, texting her during the event,” Braden said. “I told her, ‘Hey, I’m having this issue. I don’t need you to troubleshoot it with me. I’ve got it figured out. I just want to get this off my chest – my frustrations and my plan.’”

“It was a moment where it’s really easy to step in and control what’s going on, from her standpoint, to try to walk through the process of a rational problem-solver,” he continued. “But she was able to realise that I didn’t need that. I was looking for emotional support, versus an answer. And she gave me exactly what I needed to support me.”

With the international circuit picking back up this month, Lausanne represents more than just the site of the second stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit – it’s a welcome opportunity for the two to spend some quality time together.

The two won’t be reunited until then.

They will arrive in Switzerland with aspirations of continued success, following up on their individual podiums from the season opener, while finding comfort in each other’s presence away from the shooting range. 

“When we’re at the field, we both have our game plans, and that’s what we do,” Tanja said. “But as soon as we get back to the hotel, we both want to turn off archery, because you need that mental break from it. It’s actually really easy to make it work.”

Regardless of the outcome in competition, they find strength in navigating their respective journeys together.

And should the Gellenthiens find themselves in a similar situation as Guatemala City, Tanja is happy to let her husband shoot second. 

“It doesn’t solve things, but it almost makes me happier when he wins than when I win,” she said. “Of course I’m super excited when I win. But I’m so happy when I get to watch him win because I’ve seen all the work that he’s put into his sport and all of the thought that goes into it.”

The second stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup starts on Tuesday with qualification in Lausanne.