World #1s Brady Ellison, Deepika Kumari still striving in Tokyo

Brady Ellison shoots during practice at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Brady Ellison and Deepika Kumari enter the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as the top-ranked recurve archers in the world.

It is, in fact, the second Olympics at which the pair arrive in this position.

Both were ranked as world number ones ahead of London 2012. And, for much of his career, three-time Olympic medallist Ellison has hovered in and around the top position in the list. The started of his current stint dates back to before the start of the pandemic, solidified by a season in 2019 in which he compiled arguably the greatest individual season in the history of the sport.

Ranking points accrued for his world championship win in ’s-Hertogenbosch and fifth Hyundai Archery World Cup Champion trophy have stood him in good stead.

But an Olympic gold would put him head and shoulders above the rest.

“It’s hard when one tournament defines your whole entire life,” Ellison says in the documentary Believe: Brady Ellison, which was released by World Archery earlier this week. “I don't think you can be considered the best ever if you don’t win an Olympics.”

In the case of Kumari, the Indian archer is peaking at just the right time.

Preparing for her third consecutive Olympics, the world number one captured two stages of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup to propel herself to the top spot for the first time since June 2013.

Even after missing the second stage due to travel restrictions, she is having the most consistent season of her career. 

Like Ellison, Kumari’s first term at the top didn’t translate into the Olympic success she was hoping for. With the weight of India’s hopes firmly on her shoulders, the highly touted archer suffered an upset in the first round, bringing the curtain down on her country’s desire for an Olympic medal in archery that remains unfulfilled.

“I’m happy, but at the same time I have to continue my performance like this,” Kumari said after completing a trifecta of gold medals at the third stage of the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Paris. “I want to improve that, because the upcoming tournament [the Olympics] is very, very important to us. I’m trying my best to continue learning whatever I can.”

Ellison lost in the second round at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He then finished third in Rio, four years later.

Like Kumari, he has won two stages of the international circuit already this year. Both are clearly capable of winning gold in Tokyo – to the point that anything less will be considered a disappointment.

Except there is a deeper crop of opponents on the line in Yumenoshima Park.

Underrated due to a lack of competition during and in these post-pandemic times, most Asian archers have seen their rankings points expire – and will far outperform what their number might indicate about their potential at these Games.

Still, at least for now, Brady and Deepika are positioned as best they can as we enter the Olympics.

While those rankings won’t win them any points in Tokyo, they are a strong indicator of standard – and their potential for success. This represents perhaps the best chance to reverse their fortunes at the Olympics.

Their desire unquestioned, both archers know the formidable journey ahead of them. Because, when it comes to the Games, everybody starts from zero.

“Our country, in archery… it doesn’t have any Olympic medals,” Kumari said. “It’s very important to win Olympic medals, so it’s very important to me.”

Did you know?

During the qualifying round, certain archers at these Olympic Games will be identified by flags like the one pictured above. This one will be situated just behind Deepika, who shoots in the morning, and Brady, when he takes to the field in the afternoon, so that journalists and broadcasters can identify them easily on the range.

The design of the identifier flags in Tokyo is inspired by a fan.