New tactics breathe life into the USA’s Olympic dream

Mackenzie Brown signals the beginning with an upward motion, slowly lifting her hand like a conductor leading an orchestra. Her teammates are her players, gathered in unison behind the shooting line. A deep breath, followed by a thorough release.

“Fresh start,” she says, reassuring them with a quick smile.

Brown’s hand comes down as the air leaves their bodies. Their nerves begin to settle as the pressure fades away. 

The USA recurve women’s team is calm, focused and ready to compete. 

Managing anxiety is critical in archery – particularly when there is a spot at the Olympics on the line. Following years of preparation toward a single goal, the gravity of the moment can produce levels of stress that inhibit the body’s ability to perform.

As one of the 28 teams vying for just three women’s team spots at the final Olympic qualifying tournament in June, the USA braced itself against the impending nerves by implementing a series of breathing techniques to keep the pressure at bay.

Brown, Casey Kaufhold and Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez began each end in a circle, regardless of the score, gathering themselves in an effort to clear their minds and stay relaxed.

“It’s really easy in these matches to get really excited, and a lot of times when you get really excited, you start to break down in your shot,” Brown said. “We wanted to really focus on starting each end really new and just starting calm and making good shots.”

There were plenty of reasons for excitement during the qualifying event in Paris, where the United States looked to upgrade Kaufhold’s individual quota so all three members could compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The USA just barely snuck into the semifinals following a shoot-off against Turkey in the quarters. Both teams shot scores of 25 in the tiebreak, requiring the judge to decide which country had an arrow closest to the centre. And it was close – needing multiple measurements with callipers.

After a lengthy conference at the target, Brown’s arrow was declared the winner to send the USA into the next round. A wave of relief washed over the team, but they just as quickly had to regroup. Unless they won another match, they still wouldn’t be going to the Olympics.  

A rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rates threatened to stand in their way. By returning to their breathing techniques, the USA calmed their anxiety and settled into a relaxed state.

“We don’t want to be too stressed about what happened before,” Kaufhold said. “You just have to breathe properly so you don’t get tired. It’s good to have that control before you shoot, during and after the shots, too.”

Brown stepped to the line against Spain and opened with an arrow that hit the 10, setting the tone for the rest of the match. The USA won in straight sets to clinch a berth team berth to the Games, erupting in cheers as Kaufhold’s final arrow landed in the 10 as well to cement the victory.

Any residual stress appeared to be a distant memory.