By Jay McAninch
Editor’s Note: USA men’s archery team is scheduled for an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Mon., July 30, 9 a.m. ET.
Most everyone has their memorable moments in sports – I certainly do. I remember when the American’s beat Russia in Olympic hockey, and one of the great, Olympic moments of all time, when Bob Beamon broke the long jump record in Mexico City in 1968 by nearly 2 feet, a record that stood for 20 years.
Most of you likely know our American men’s archery team — Jake Kaminski, Jacob Wukie and Brady Ellison — won the silver medal yesterday, losing to Italy by one point on the last arrow. Lost in the headlines, but vividly seared into my memory is when our young team of Americans sauntered onto the Lord Cricket Grounds range and beat the vaunted Koreans in the team semifinals, 224-219. This is the same Korean team whose members qualified one, two and three in the individual ranking rounds and who, in their quarterfinal match, were within one arrow of setting a world record score. Korea, over the past 20 years, has dominated Olympic archery.
No one picked the Americans. In fact, most said it was too bad we ended up in the same side of the draw as Korea, code for, “let’s shoot against the Koreans in the gold medal match so we’ll at least get a medal.” I confess to having said we’d be shooting against the Mexicans for bronze.
But our guys must have missed the memo. For the semifinal match, these three men walked out to the range, loose, smiling, confident. They seemed almost too loose. Looking back, I think I was expecting them to be solemn, given the gravity of taking on the dominant team in archery. If our boys took this match seriously, they certainly hid it from me.
The Koreans, as expected, were a study in confidence. All three were of the same mold: about 6-feet tall and 220 pounds, stoic, unemotional and supremely confident; as Olympic, multiple-medal winners are.
Introductions in archery are short with little hype. The Koreans were true to form, hardly flinching when they were introduced. We looked like college friends being introduced at a slow-pitch softball game. Wukie is the oldest at 26 and was the most understated offering a simple wave and warm smile. Kaminski, who stood out because of his blue cap, different from the red cap his teammates wore stepped forward with a smile that consumed his face and gave an animated wave. Ellison, the anchor shooter, walked while pointing to the heavens, then gave a two-handed, wrist wave with arms still raised, first to one side and then to the other before walking back to the line pointing skyward.
Korea took a 2-point lead after the first end (each archer shoots one arrow in each set, an end is when each team’s archer has taken two shots, totaling six shots for each team), which left me with that nervous foreboding that the inevitable was starting. My brain was stuck on the shooting prowess I’d seen in the previous round when the Koreans hit 10 after 10. It was only a matter of time. Yet, we made up one point of the deficit in the next end before pulling ahead by one point when the third end was finished. The tension was palpable during these middle ends as the teams traded 9s, with the occasional 10 thrown in just to give our hearts a jolt.
And then, the greatest thrill in sports: our guys went on a run. Of the last nine arrows, they hit SEVEN 10s, and Ellison – the world’s no. 1 ranked archer – only had one of those 10s. Wukie and Kaminski ended the match hitting three 10s in a row. In archery, that’s the equivalent of hitting three-point shots late in a close basketball game and then getting a steal and dunking on your opponent as the game ends. In fact, our boys ended the match with three10s to spank Korea by five points.
By day’s end, our team had won the silver and, although they were likely a bit disappointed with second place, I went home with a sports memory I’ll never forget. Kaminski, Wukie and Ellison had drawn their bows and shot arrows in front of thousands of cheering fans and millions of TV viewers and, when it mattered most, they performed at the highest level archers can attain. It doesn’t get any better than that.