To be successful in archery, a competitor has to be able to keep her or his cool under any circumstances.
For Erin Mickelberry, that meant dealing with adverse circumstances at the most inopportune of moments. But the Mountlake Terrace High School graduate was able to maintain her concentration, and as a result she came home from Peru with Pan American Games gold.
Mickelberry won a gold medal as part of the U.S. Recurve Women Team entry at the Pan Am Games, as the U.S. overcame equipment failure smack in the middle of the gold-medal match. And after many attempts she was thrilled to finally earn her first major international gold.
Mickelberry, a 33-year-old house painter who resides in north Bothell, teamed with 15-year-old prodigy Casey Kaufhold and five-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig as the U.S. team topped Mexico 5-3 in the gold-medal match, held Aug. 11 in Lima, Peru.
“It was really great,” Mickelberry said about winning gold. “My teammates, we’ve been competing with each other all year, we were also the team that went to the Netherlands for the World Championships and we went to the World Cups together, so we got to know our styles and what works best for each other. So it was really nice, and it was really nice to come away with a medal with them.”
Mickelberry was 12 when she first put her hands on a bow and arrow while attending summer camp. When she signed up for archery she had no expectations, but she immediately took to it. Her intention was to do archery strictly for fun, but her coach Mike Wichser cajoled her into entering tournaments.
“Mentally, everyone says golf is tough? They ought to do this,” Wichser said. “Mentally it is a very difficult game to play.
“Technically (Mickelberry) is really good,” Wichser added. “She’s built well for the sport because she’s strong, and the mental part she’s learned how to handle the stress the game. You have to, otherwise you can’t play.”
While Mickelberry was attending the University of Washington she made her breakthrough, qualifying to participate in the trials for the 2008 Olympics. She’s been competing internationally ever since, representing the U.S. at events like the World University Games, World Cup tournaments and the World Championships.
But it was at the Pan Am Games when she finally got to the top of the podium.
The U.S. was cruising in Lima, ranking second in qualifying and breezing through the quarterfinals and semifinals before meeting top-seeded Mexico in the championship match. The way the team event works is that the teams play sets, with each archer shooting two arrows each set at a target 70 meters away, rotating through one shot at a time. Whichever team scores best — a bullseye is worth 10 — wins the set and gets two points, and if the scores are tied the teams each get one point. The first team to six points wins.
However, just as the U.S. was about to begin the first set, disaster struck.
“Casey gets up to the one-meter line just before we can cross over, she puts her bow on the ground and she goes, ‘Oh no,’” Mickelberry recalled. “I ask her what’s wrong, and she turns around and she has her stabilizer in one hand and her riser in the other and says, ‘My bow broke.’”
Kaufhold, who was scheduled to shoot first for the U.S., didn’t have a back-up bow with her. Kaufhold is also left-handed while Mickelberry and Lorig are both right-handed, so she couldn’t use their bows. Therefore, it was time for some quick thinking.
“I told her, ‘I’ll shoot first, Khatuna will shoot second, you go and get your bow fixed,’” Mickelberry said. “So she runs off the final stage, and Mexico knows something’s going on because no one ever leaves the final stage. She calls over to our two Compounders, who were there, and she’s yelling at them to get her case because she needs to get the stabilizer off and put her back-up stabilizer on.”
Kaufhold got back in time to shoot her arrow, but her bow had no stabilizer or weights on it. She shot a 4, then raced off again to attach the back-up stabilizer.
”Mexico shoots their three arrows, I shoot, Khatuna shoots, she comes back and still doesn’t have any of the weights on, but she has her back-up extender on,” Mickelberry said. “She shoots and aims really low, and she shoots a 10.”
The net result was both teams scored a 51, meaning the set was tied and both teams received a point. Everything went back to normal in the second set, and the U.S. went on to prevail 5-3 to win the gold.
“We were thinking we’d give up two points, but we can always come back,” Mickelberry said of the equipment mishap. “But since we were tied we were able to keep going and it build us up a little bit.
“(Winning the gold) felt like I accomplished something,” Mickelberry added. “It was a long time in coming, because I’ve been on the cusp for so long. It was good to actually get it.”
Mickelberry also competed individually at the Pan Am Games, reaching the quarterfinals of the Recurve Women competition before losing to the eventual gold medalist, Mexico’s Alejandra Valencia, 6-5 in a one-arrow shoot-off. Both scored a 9 in the shoot-off, with Valencia advancing by a mere two millimeters.
Next up for Mickelberry? Trying to make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The U.S. is currently undergoing its Olympic trials, which take place in three stages. The first stage concludes this weekend at the Texas Shootout in College Station, Texas, when the field will be cut to 16 — Mickelberry ranks fifth following the opening event last month in Dublin, Ohio. Stage two takes place in April in Chula Vista, California, where the field will be trimmed to eight. The trials conclude with stage three in May in Gainesville, Florida.
As of now, only one U.S. archer will qualify for the Olympics. However, the U.S. can qualify a team of three should it reach the medal matches at the World Cup event next June in Germany. Therefore, a top-three finish at the trials could result in an Olympic berth.
And that would mean so much for Mickelberry, who was a member of the shadow team each of the previous three Olympics as she finished in the top 16, and could theoretically have been called in as an alternate.
“I think that’s anyone’s dream, to make the team,” Mickelberry said. “I’ve already been to the Olympic test event, so I know what it looks like. After winning at the Pan Am Games that would be the next step. I would enjoy that.”
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