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Ellison Goes From Hunter To Three-Time Olympic Archer

Brady Ellison didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly have the ability to launch arrows near the center of a target at a consistent pace.

No, it was a progression, he would tell you.

You don’t qualify for the Olympics – three times, in fact – by luck. It takes time. And work. And passion. And an upbringing in archery. At least, it did for Ellison, a 27-year-old Arizona native.

“It was completely because of hunting,” he said Friday afternoon after his round at the U.S. National Field Championships in Yankton. The weekend tournament is a USA Archery-sanctioned event.

Many of the nation’s top archers got their start in the sport by hunting. It’s an activity that goes hand-in-hand with competitive archery.

“It was with my family, and then I shot a lot of local 3D (tournaments), and then it grew from there,” Ellison added.

And it grew to the point where Ellison has become one of the most famous names in the sport.

Not to mention successful.

He will represent Team USA in Rio de Janeiro later this summer, which will be his third Olympic Games – he competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics (where he helped the U.S. men’s team capture a silver medal).

Ellison’s two teammates on the United States team for this summer are Jake Kaminski and Zach Garrett, and Kaminski is actually shooting in Yankton this weekend as well – the tournament here this weekend also features the U.S. Team Trials for the World Field Championships.

Qualifying for, and competing in, such prestigious events is nothing new for Ellison, in particular.

That hunting background pays off, he said.

“It just shows that if you pick it up and you like it, and you’re shooting it well, you don’t have to pick up your bow just for hunting season,” Ellison said.

Not when there are leagues to join and targets nearby to practice at, Ellison added.

“Archery doesn’t have to be just a month before hunting season,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest turning point in Ellison’s career came in 2006 when he made the decision to switch from a compound bow (one that has cables and pulleys) to a recurve, with the eventual hope of making the U.S. Olympic team.

As it turned out, the transition made a difference.

“It was just a general progression of my skill and where I was that led to me knowing that I could make a career out of this,” Ellison said.

That resume now includes three Olympic Games.

As Ellison prepares for the trip to Brazil later this summer, he knows that previous experience is invaluable – particularly when it comes to competing at that stage, with that kind of pressure.

He called the 2008 Olympics in China “scary and horrifying.”

“You get everything out of the way, and the second games are more business,” he said.

“Now, with the third games, you know what to expect, so you’re hunting gold. That’s really the only thing that matters.”

Because, as he pointed out, what else would remain to accomplish?

“You’re already an Olympian; you’ve already been there a couple times, but now the only thing left to do is win gold medals,” he said. “That’s the goal now.”

Ellison is also realistic, though.

He knows that just because he qualified for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, he wasn’t simply going to waltz through the trial stages this year. Put another way, it wasn’t guaranteed. A lot can happen in four years, let alone just one.

“Four years feels like it’s forever, honestly,” Ellison said. “Sometimes you think, ‘Oh yeah, we were just in London four years ago,’ but at the same time, four years ago was so long ago.”

Just as Ellison is becoming familiar with the big stage of the Olympics, he’s familiar with Yankton. Throughout his career, he’s made several trips for various national and international tournaments.

“I like Yankton,” he said. “It’s a little far from an airport, but this weather this week couldn’t be better,” Ellison said. “And I love the bowfishing out here.”

Yes, hunting remains a true passion, no matter where he travels.

“I come here and shoot and then I bowfish,” Ellison said, with a smile.

“I do like this area. This is a location I look forward to coming to.”

Trinidad & Tobago Native Has Olympic Goals

It’s not hard to pick out Jean-Luc Espinet in an archery tournament.

He’s likely the only shooter wearing a Trinidad and Tobago shirt.

The 20-year-old, who lives near Atlanta, Georgia, was born in Trinidad and Tobago (a Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela), and has dual citizenship with that country and with the United States.

“It’s my piece of paradise,” he said of his home country after Friday’s round at the U.S. National Field Championships in Yankton.

Espinet’s background reads like this: He moved to Trinidad and Tabago at age four. He lived there for 10 years. And then he moved to the United States in 2010.

He competes for Trinidad and Tobago in international tournaments and for the United States in domestic tournaments (like this weekend). If, though, he would represent the U.S. in an international event, he would have to sit out two years.

And that would hamper his ultimate goal of shooting in the Olympics.

What got him interested in the sport?

A movie, as is the case for many younger shooters. In his case, it was “The Lord of the Rings.”

“That’s still my favorite movie,” Espinet said.

He started shooting at a local club back home, and was hooked from day one. So much so, he said, that he asked Santa Claus for a bow one Christmas.

Espinet said he remembers watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics on television, and knew immediately that’s what he wanted to do: Qualify for an Olympic team.

He finally got his chance earlier this year. Espinet competed in the Olympic Trials, in May (as part of the Gator Cup – a key tournament on the archery calendar). He lost his elimination match, however.

Still, at age 20, Espinet knows he’ll have more opportunities.

“There’s still a chance; there’s still time,” he said.

Originally published 6/1/16 in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan by Jeremy Hoeck.