The archery mixed team event may have only been added to the roster for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 at the beginning of June, but already it is a prime target for one of the sport’s top competitors.
“My main focus right now is working on our team, working together for the World Championships in 2019,” Mackenzie Brown, the only female archer to represent the USA at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, said. “It is our semi-long-term goal, that team being really strong so we can go to the World Championships, win our first match and get that team spot for Tokyo.”
Until now, male and female archers have had the opportunity to enter individual competitions and same-sex team events only at the Olympic Games. But for Brown, competing with and against men has been a key part of her sporting life since the very beginning.
“One of my personal goals is always to try and beat the guys that I am training with,” Brown explained. “It is something that I have always done, since I first started. Our guys are really competitive internationally, so if I am competing with them and staying right there with them, I know I am going to be pretty competitive with the women.”
For the 22-year-old it is the unique atmosphere, the differing energy and the sense of “solidity” it brings to the squad as a whole, which makes the mixed team standout. The fast-paced event, in which teams comprising one man and one woman face-off against each other in set match play over four arrows per end, has been part of the World Championships since 2011. It is also a regular fixture on the World Cup tour.
In May this year, Brown teamed up with fellow Rio 2016 Olympian Zach Garrett to win bronze in the first leg of the World Cup, in Shanghai, China. It was a performance born on the training field.
One of my personal goals is always to try and beat the guys that I am training withMackenzie Brown
“I think having a bit of a background with the person is valuable. Zach and I train together all the time. So it’s really easy to know his personality and be pretty laid back,” Brown said.
She is even closer to the USA’s two-time men’s team Olympic silver medallist, Brady Ellison.
“I really enjoy shooting with him. He was at the [USA] Olympic Training Centre when I first got there and his stepdad, Mel Nichols, is my coach. So we have this fun, kind of family feel when we shoot together,” Brown said.
As diplomatic as the Texan is, she cannot hide the fact that “it would be awesome to shoot with Brady for a medal in Tokyo”.
Similar in style to golf, archers have a significant gap between arrows, a time period that requires dedicated management and undoubtedly benefits from the presence of an amiable teammate.
“When you are there to make your shot, you are 100% focused and you are working on specific things, but after that you want to let your mind wander, let your mind relax,” Brown explained.
“We [her and Ellison] joke all the time, we try not to stay serious.”
It is exactly this kind of camaraderie and sense of kinship that has made the mixed team event so attractive to Brown.
“Our marines have an ethos that you are watching your brother and then someone is watching your back and everyone is taken care of. It’s kind of that way in a team match,” Brown explained. “I am focused on making my shot really good when I get up on the line, and then I am supporting the rest of my team when they get up on the line.”
I am focused on making my shot really good when I get up on the line, and then I am supporting the rest of my team when they get up on the line.Mackenzie Brown
“It’s including others in your plan versus just being focused on yourself, which I think is a lot better because I get to relax and just have fun with the rest of my team.”
The USA team is big on doing their best to recreate these type of competitive environments in training, although the prizes are not quite of the same magnitude as they will be chasing in Tokyo in three years’ time.
“We’ll do a lot of matches in training with little ice cream bets: whoever loses has to buy the winners ice cream,” Brown laughed, before she added, “I do try and imagine I am just having another ice cream match when I am at the world championships or Olympic Games.”
It has proved a successful approach. In Shanghai, Brown followed up her mixed team bronze with the women’s team gold. The USA is currently placed third in World Archery’s mixed team rankings and seventh in the women’s team list.
A passionate sower and knitter in her rare time off – she lives in the USA’s Olympic Training Centre in California – Brown has promised to make Ellison, currently ranked number four in the men’s individual, something personal for his team uniform, should the pair qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games.Perhaps it could be a pouch, just the right size to fit a mixed team medal in.