The crowd chants “USA! USA! USA!” as you take the field for the gold-medal archery match. The cheers fade as you sharpen your focus on the target 70 meters away. When it’s all over, you drape the American flag across your back and stand tall as the “Star Spangled Banner” echoes through the stadium.
Do you dream of representing your country in the world’s greatest sporting event?
Making an Olympic archery team is one of sport’s greatest feats. Only three men and three women earn the honor of being on Team USA every four years. Miranda Huerta (formerly Miranda Leek) was one of the elite archers who achieved her Olympic dream in 2012. In this article, she shares her journey and advice for making an Olympic team.
Shoot an Olympic Recurve
The only bow type allowed in the Olympics is the recurve. If your heart is set on reaching the Games, that’s the bow you must shoot. But if you’re shooting a different bow, don’t worry. Many archers transition from other disciplines to Olympic recurves. Olympic medalist Brady Ellison was a top compound archer who made the switch. Huerta, Jacob Wukie and Butch Johnson all shot compound bows with fingers before switching to recurves.
Once you have the right bow, you must shoot it a lot. Huerta made the team when she was just 19, and was in school during much of her training.
“Throughout high school, I would spend three to four hours at the archery range about four days per week,” she said. Huerta supplemented her practice by using stretch bands and drawing her bow in front of a mirror.
“I did a lot of the nitty-gritty work that most people would find boring, but it paid off in the end,” she said. She also did lots of mental training in the evenings and while traveling to tournaments, which gave her an edge during big moments.
Find a Great Coach
A good archery coach does more than just teach you how to shoot. Good coaches guide you on a journey to become the best archer possible. “Coaches have a lot to do with how you develop as an athlete,” Huerta said. “Finding the right coach that you’re comfortable communicating with is key.”
Huerta’s first coach was her father, who introduced her to archery and remained a vital part of her support system.
“You need to surround yourself with people who will support you and push you through those hard times,” she said. “I’m really thankful my dad was so involved with my archery because I can think of multiple times when I had just enough, and I was going to put the bow down. My dad let me take a day or two off and pushed me to keep going.”
She received her first formal training from Vic and Terry Wunderle. Vic is an Olympic medalist, and Terry is a world-renowned coach. They helped give a great start to her career. After she achieved success in national competition, she worked with national head coach Kisik Lee.
Attend Olympic Trials
Huerta didn’t just practice at the range and then show up at Olympic trials. She competed in national tournaments, made the junior dream team, went to the youth world championships, and made the USA Archery Team. All that competitive experience helped her through the trials and in the Games.
The selection process to make the team usually involves multiple competitions made up of ranking rounds and round-robin matches. USA Archery publishes the rules for the trials.
One constant in all Olympic trials is the pressure competitors feel. “It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s hard not to assign more value to your performance,” Huerta said.
She recommends treating the trials like any other competition. She leaned on her preparation to carry her through the process, and finished with the No. 1 ranking.
Shoot in the Olympics
You’re not an Olympian until you actually compete in the Olympics. Huerta almost didn’t complete that last step in her journey. She suffered a minor bicycle accident right before leaving for the Games. She didn’t sustain serious injuries, but she pinched a nerve and couldn’t draw her bow. When she flew to London for the 2012 Games, she couldn’t shoot more than a few arrows.
“I went to the trails, I prepared and I made the team,” she said. “I was flying over there to do what I’ve been working toward, but my body wouldn’t let me do it.”
Fortunately, she regained her strength about a week before the Games, and practiced a few days before the competition began. Huerta fulfilled her Olympic dream.
“Walking into the opening ceremonies and being so close to the Olympic flame, you can feel it,” she said. “It’s a moment you can only dream of before making the Olympic team.”
When the Olympics finished, Huerta went to college. She now works for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as its archery education coordinator, a job in which she helps the next generation of archers get their start.
“Archery has given me a lot in my life,” she said. “You get discipline and self-confidence, you learn respect for yourself and other people, and you learn what hard work is. I hope by introducing other people to archery that I help them enjoy some of those benefits as well.”
Does she have any other advice for aspiring Olympians?
“Know who you are as a person,” Huerta said. “Becoming an Olympian demands your full focus, and it demands a lot from people close to you. It’s easy to attach your success in archery to your self-perception. Know yourself and give yourself the free time to pursue other interests and develop friendships.”
Becoming an Olympic athlete requires years of dedication, but once you make it you’re an Olympian forever. Do you think you have what it takes? Then visit an archery shop to explore equipment, lessons and programs like Junior Olympic Archery Development. The sooner you start, the better chance you’ll have of living your dream.