Chasing greatness

Each professional sport has its own GOATs. 

In basketball, there’s Michael Jordan and LeBron James. In gymnastics, there’s Simone Biles. Soccer has Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Football has Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.

But who can become one of the greatest ever in archery? That’s where Casey Kaufhold comes into the fold.

“When you think of gymnastics, you think Simone, when you think basketball, you think Michael Jordan or LeBron James; I just want to be that person of archery,” Kaufhold said.

The American Olympic archer already has a stellar start to her young career. In 2023, she was the No. 1 ranked recurve woman and also won the Archery World Cup title. To add more momentum ahead of the Paris Games, Kaufhold recently won the Pan American Championships in April. 

These feats are chased by archers across the world that can take the entirety of a career to accomplish, but the Lancaster, Pennsylvania native has pulled it off all before age 21. 

Kaufhold reassured herself that she is not pumping the brakes on her road to greatness. 

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned in the last few years competing at a high level and winning here and there is that it’s a big thing,” she said. “I love that because that’s what keeps me going. In every tournament, I’m striving to have that feeling [of winning] again. [Whether] it’s the Olympics or a World Cup, I want to win any tournament no matter what because that feeling is everything.”

The 20-year-old said she has a variety of emotions when she wins a tournament, ranging from tears of happiness, empowerment, glory or feeling overwhelmed. 

Olympic preparations

The addiction to winning is the approach Kaufhold said she will take to the Paris Olympics this summer. 

It’ll be her second Olympic Games after making her debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She was 17 at the time and didn’t win a medal, but a lot has changed since then. Kaufhold is a medal favorite for Paris in the women’s individual event. If she wins a medal, she will become the first American woman to do so since Luann Ryon took home gold at the 1976 Montreal Games – nearly half a century since that feat was last achieved.  

Kaufhold admitted there’s a mental balance she’s going through from having no expectations placed on her at the Tokyo Games to now being one of the favorites to win gold. 

“I think you can take [the expectations] in two ways: you could take it as ‘Oh, that’s pressure because people expect me to [win gold],’ or it can build you up and build your confidence because other people know that you’re good and they expect you to do well,” Kaufhold said. “The second one is kind of how I’m looking at it. I want it to be motivating. I want it to be something that’s positive, not something that’s, like, negative and pressure.” 

To help live up to those expectations, Kaufhold said she’s been undergoing different training methods, such as replicating in-game events where the stakes and pressure are high. 

“I’ll do something to get my heart rate up, like jumping jacks, burpees or run for a bit to get my heart rate up and then I’ll shoot and practice being able to lower [my heart rate] as fast and efficiently as I can,” she said. “It’s hard because archery is a sport where there is not really much cardio involved but your heart rate still goes up when you’re in those intense matches. So it’s a challenge for me to do cardio like that and then turn right around and shoot.”

Something new that she has implemented in her training program has been related to the mental aspects of the sport. About a year ago, Kaufhold said she began working with a sports psychologist to help her manage her thoughts while competing. The best thing about having someone like that on her team is also having a person to talk to about anything in general, and it’s something that means a lot for Kaufhold. 

“Having kind of an outlet of somebody to talk to about non-archery things has helped me so much competing at a high level. The biggest thing for me is doing a lot of imagery visualization in prep for the Games. Like, I actually shot and won a gold medal [at the Archery World Cup in Paris last year] on what will be the Olympic stage this summer. Having that experience has been super helpful because I've just been able to replay it in my mind all the time and it’ll make it seem familiar when I get there again in July.” 

Family impact

There’s a list of positives that Kaufhold said will continue to boost her confidence in order to be successful at the Paris Games, such as learning from other Olympic archers like Brady Ellison and already defeating some of the world’s best archers. The most important one to her, though, is experiencing her first “normal” Olympics while having her best supporters in the stands – mom and dad. 

Kaufhold’s parents, Rob and Carole, have made a sizeable impact on her archery career. They were the ones who introduced her to the sport when she was just 3 years old. And then when she was 8, Kaufhold’s parents entered her into her first archery tournament. 

Kaufhold’s father, in fact, made two national field teams for the U.S. and was an alternate on the U.S. team that boycotted the 1980 Olympics. So it was only natural to put his daughter in archery as well, Kaufhold said. 

Nowadays, Rob and Carole own the Lancaster Archery Supply, which is one of the largest retailers in the country. By running the business, Kaufhold said it’s a way her parents continue to impact her pro career and others who are interested in joining the sport. 

“My parents have set me up with so much and I’m super grateful for their support, I seriously don’t think I would have ever tried archery without them,” Kaufhold said. “It’s been really interesting to see the connection with the business, like, a lot of people will come into the shop while I’m practicing and be like, “Hey, I saw you in this newspaper article and it made me want to come try archery,’ and that’s so cool. Especially like a small town and how much the word gets out there about archery.” 

Leaving a lasting legacy

Although Kaufhold is a heavy favorite to win gold, there’s something else that she believes will determine if her career can be defined as a legacy. 

The 20-year-old has noticed the global attention women’s sports have received over the past few years, especially with Caitlin Clark’s impact on women’s basketball. If Kaufhold can make a similar impact on archery or sports in general, that’s a career goal she said is worth more than medals. 

“No matter how long I stay actively competing, I just want to leave a mark on archery however I can, whether that’s inspiring others to shoot,” Kaufhold said. “Being the first U.S. woman to be ranked No. 1, that’s something I hope will go down in history and inspire a lot of U.S. women to chase after that as well. Looking forward, I would just love to be a role model for people and do whatever I can to support the sport of archery.” 

The women’s individual event begins on July 25, one day before the Opening Ceremony. All archery events for the 2024 Paris Olympics will take place at the Esplanade de Invalides.