LONDON -- In the end, it was out of the U.S.' hands. One final arrow in the hands of Italy's Michele Frangilli, a 36-year-old two-time Olympic medalist and one-time world champion, would determine the difference between gold and silver. And ultimately, it came down to just a fraction of an inch, as so many things at the Olympics do.
Frangilli's arrow landed just inside the 4.8-inch wide target 70 meters away, kissing the outside edge and giving Italy the 10 points it needed to win its first team gold medal in men's archery. The U.S., after a slow start in the final, had to settle for silver. And though they were slightly disappointed that they hadn't won gold, Brady Ellison, Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie still earned the title of first American medal winners at the London Games.
"It's a great honor to be the first," Ellison said. "Hopefully it's a good sign for a good Games for the U.S. and [I'm proud] to help lead the charge."
The silver was the best for a U.S. men's archery squad since 1996, when the U.S. defeated South Korea in Athens for its first team gold medal. And on Saturday, on the hallowed pitch of Lord's Cricket Ground, there was hope that the U.S. might capture its second. After all, they had already slayed the proverbial dragon.
It wasn't exactly a Miracle on Grass, but in their semifinal round, the U.S. pulled off an unlikely upset of the heavily favored Korean team, defeating them, 224-219 (out of a possible 240). By all standards, Korea looked destined to steamroll the field on its way to the nation's fifth team Olympic gold medal. In Friday's ranking rounds, where each archer sends 72 arrows at a target 70 meters away, both Im Dong-hyun and Kim Bub-min broke the previous world record, scoring 699 and 698 points, respectively, out of a possible 720. And the third member of the team, Oh Jin-hyek, brought up the rear with 690, which was enough to place third overall and helped Korea break a world record in team points as well. In its quarterfinal match against the Ukraine Saturday, Korea tied the Olympic record of 227 points, flying 13 arrows into the center target.
The U.S., meanwhile, had enjoyed a mediocre ranking round Friday. Ellison, the world's top-ranked archer, scored 676 in ranking, good for 10th overall, putting his team in fourth. And in their quarterfinal Saturday, the American team had just barely eked through, defeating Japan by just one point before facing Korea.
"Every reporter that came up to talk to us [this week] said, Korea's impossible to beat, and do you think you can do it?" Ellison said. "Yeah, we can."
And they did it with authority. After trailing by a point midway through the 24-arrow match, the U.S. men hit six center targets and didn't shoot an arrow worth fewer than nine. Their last three hit dead center and all but sealed the win. Korea went on to defeat Mexico for bronze, their worst team finish since 1992. It was undoubtedly a disappointing finish for what is widely considered the world's best team. But now, that may be up for debate. Italy owns the gold, and the U.S. made the invincible look human.
"Despite coming away with a silver, nobody works or communicates the way we do, and there isn't anybody really that is better out there," Kaminski said. "We are the toughest team."
As Kaminski spoke, Ki-sik Lee, the U.S.'s coach and a Korean native, nodded his head as he overheard. Even he had to agree.