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Local Archers Reflect On Connection With Olympians

There was a fairly good chance the fellow archers standing alongside Jamie Van Lent a year ago were headed for bigger - more well-known - pastures.

Sure enough, they were.

As the United States men's and women's archery teams prepare for next week's first rounds of the London Olympics, their connection trickles back to those archers who had the chance to compete with them at an international tournament last summer in Yankton.

“It's not every day you get to shoot next to the best in the world,” said Van Lent, an upcoming senior and club archery participant at Mount Marty College. “You can go up to them and talk to them. They'll talk about pretty much anything.

“They were just like normal people - except they're going to the Olympics and you're not,” she added, with a laugh.

The United States men's trio of Brady Ellison, Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie, along the women's group of Miranda Leek, Khatuna Lorig and Jennifer Nichols, were all in Yankton last July for the 2011 U.S. National Target Championships.

Former Olympians dotted the hundreds of archers at that tournament, which allowed local entrants like Van Lent to spend time with some of the biggest names in the sport. Ellison is a two-time World Cup winner and No. 1 male archer in the world.

“It's a great opportunity. It makes you want to shoot better and it raises my goals higher,” Van Lent said. “Seeing them right there with you makes you want to shoot with them, even though you know you really can't.”

The quartet of Ellison, Kaminski, Leek and Lorig were also among six archers who advanced to the Pan American Games, after the trials held in Yankton last summer.

“Maybe this time we can come home with the gold,” Ellison told the Press & Dakotan after that event.

Last year's National Target Championships wasn't the only time some of the top archers in the sport have come to Yankton and it won't be the last. But it was certainly a once-in-a lifetime experience for those involved, according to National Field Archery Association (NFAA) president Bruce Cull.

“We couldn't be more excited. That's just great to see, when you can have the local archers rub shoulders with them,” Cull said. “Even the younger ones can sit back and say, ‘This is a real possibility.'”

One such young archer, Gabby Keiser of Yankton, had her first brush with the future Olympians at the Target Nationals, and remembers it fondly.

“It was pretty awesome, knowing they're in the same tournament I was and in line with me,” said Keiser, 12, a member of Yankton's Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) program. “That was cool that they came to a small town like Yankton.”

Keiser got a second chance to hang with the top archers at a tournament earlier this summer in Ogden, Utah. Getting an up-close look at the top competitors in the sport should hopefully trickle down to other younger kids like herself, Keiser said.

“I think it's pretty neat,” she said. “Hopefully the other kids want to start shooting and try to be like them some day.”

To that end, the sport continues to grow, especially locally, Van Lent said. The Easton Yankton Archery Complex offers after-school programs for kids ages 6-18, and the JOAD team offers instruction for young archers.

“It's been growing crazy since I've been around here to see it,” Van Lent said. “More movies with archery in them have come out, plus it's really hot outside and people want to come inside. It's awesome to see.

“Some of the kids here have even met those top pros, too, so that makes them want to shoot even more.”

The Olympic archery competition gets under way next Friday near London, with the ranking rounds for both the men and women.

Ellison figures to give the United States men a strong contender for a top-three finish, despite the U.S. having won only two medals (both in Sydney in 2000) since claiming two golds in 1996. South Korea has won three straight men's gold medals.

Outside shot or not, the U.S. team figures to have an increased following from its fans back in Yankton, Van Lent said.

“It makes me want to (follow) the Olympics more, to see if I can get there some day,” she said.

Ultimately, the Olympics will be a goal for Van Lent, she said. In the meantime, she is focused on her time with Mount Marty.

Van Lent teamed with Jarod Myer to finish first in the Mixed Compound round at the North Regional Outdoors Championship earlier this year. And in May 2011, she helped the MMC club team finish 10th at the U.S. Intercollegiate Archery Championships.

Like the Mount Marty squad, other local and area archers have started to utilize some of the same styles as the upcoming Olympians, Cull said.

“So many of these kids were using compounds (bows) when we moved the complex here, but now you're seeing more going to the recurve bows like the big boys,” he said. “They've got some high expectations of themselves, and they're already setting goals in their mind for that level.”