Brady Ellison’s quest for gold still alive in individual event

Brady Ellison shoots at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Brady Ellison will live to see another day.

The world number one cruised through the opening rounds of the men’s individual event on Wednesday at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, sweeping Iran’s Milad Vaziri Teymoorlooei, 6-0, in the first round and India's Pravin Jadhav, also in straight sets, in the second to secure his spot in the last 16.

Passage through the hazardous early rounds was a crucial step for Ellison, who lost in his first match of the mixed team event with Mackenzie Brown and was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the men’s team event against Japan, ending his hopes for a third consecutive team medal. 

The individual competition represents Ellison’s last chance to reach the podium in Tokyo – and, perhaps, to capture the gold medal that has eluded him his entire career.

Addressing the media after his second match – in which the USA archer guaranteed his appearance on finals day on Saturday – Ellison spoke in a tone that was equal parts confident and relieved. It was a stark contrast from the air of disappointment that has coloured much of his tournament.

“It’s gone better than any of the other things have so far,” Ellison said, not shying away from the frustrations that preceded Wednesday's matches. 

His demeanour, however, was that of cautious optimism. With a number of contenders, including top-seeded Kim Je Deok of Korea, already eliminated, Ellison knows the elusive gold is ripe for the taking.

“It’s the first time I’ve walked into an Olympic stadium and felt absolutely no nerves, no pressure,” said Ellison, who is making his fourth straight appearance at the Games. “I’m probably going to guarantee that that’s going to change on the finals day, but today it went pretty good and I'm pretty happy with it.”

Ellison, who seeded second after qualifications, now has just four matches standing between him and a medal. The competition format moving forward, meanwhile, will more closely resemble what he and his fellow competitors are accustomed to on the international circuit – a consideration, he said, that is largely responsible for the number of upsets that historically occur at the Games.

Over the first three days of the individual events, an archer has just two matches. On the morning of finals day, they have one. If still undefeated and in the running for gold, there’s potentially another three in just one session.

It’s a game of survival early on – where the smallest mistake at the wrong time can really spell disaster.

“The Olympics are so different for the normal top eight to 10 guys who get byes all the time in all of the World Cups,” Ellison said. “You get here, and you have to shoot like three extra matches, it feels like. It’s really only two, but you have to shoot more matches here.”

“I feel a lot more pressure,” he continued, “because we’re used to not shooting these first matches… You have these guys down here who are at the Games, they want to win a medal and, quite frankly, they don’t care: They don’t care if you’re Korean or me or anyone. They’re like, ‘I’m going to come here, and I can shoot three arrows just as good as you can’.”

“Once you get to the top eight, it’s just, ‘hold on and hope that you get through those first two matches’.”

The pace of the tournament increases rapidly toward the end and, Brady said, the results tend to settle back down. 

In the third round on Saturday morning, Brady will face the winner of a four-athlete cluster featuring Indonesia’s Riau Salsabilla, Australia’s David Barnes, Chile Andres Aguilar and his USA teammate, Jacob Wukie.

Should he win that match, it’s into the last eight and a potential monstrous run of three opponents in one session.

If the matches follow the script, Brady would face China’s Wei Shaoxuan and then Korean archers Oh Jin Hyek and Kim Woojin, the latter in the final. Of course, anyone remaining in the competition could still cause an upset – but the prospect of a Woojin-Brady final is exciting.

Ellison, already with three Olympic medals to his name, intends on adding one more before the week is up. A technical adjustment to his finger tab has yielded positive results, and his confidence is high. Archery’s winningest international competitor since 2010, the table is set for him to finally translate his career success into Olympic gold.

It’s going to be an uphill battle, though.

“This is the Olympics. There are no easy matches here,” Ellison said. “You only need to be able to shoot three good arrows at a time, and everyone in the world can do that at this stage.”

The archery competitions at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games continue with individual eliminations until the end of the day on Thursday.