Teen Archer Gabi Sasai Is Building Toward Paris, One Target At A Time
by Karen Price
(L-R) Gabi Sasai and Brady Ellison hug during the mixed team event at the 2022 Archery World Cup on April 22, 2022 in Antalya, Turkey.
Gabi Sasai was 6 years old when gymnast Gabby Douglas won the Olympic all-around gold medal in 2012, and it made an impression.
“She just kept saying, ‘They’re saying my name! They’re saying my name!’” said her mother, Aisa Sasai. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’”
The little girl who shared a name with the Olympic gymnastics champion had only recently picked up a bow and arrow, and a dream was born. Now 17, Sasai is an up-and-coming archer who’s hoping that a little over a year from now, the announcers on television will be talking about Gabi winning gold and it will be about her. She knows that the experience she gains this year could have a big impact on what might happen in 2024.
“This season is very important because there are a lot of trials this year,” she said. “I’m planning to be competing in the youth world championships and the senior world championships, which are linked with the Pan American Games, and also the first stage of Olympic Trials will be this year, so it’s a busy year.
“Performing to the best of my ability at all of those is definitely a short-term goal.”
Sasai was so young when she started competing in archery that for a long time, she was the only one in her age group. It wasn’t until she was 9 or 10 years old, she said, that she began to regularly compete against others her age. By that point, she was already being told by local coaches that she was showing a lot of potential in the sport.
“Somewhere in my little mind, that made me think I could go further with it,” she said. “It felt like I was really supported and that people believed in me.”
On a typical day, Sasai does online school at her home in Seattle from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., then heads to the range for about four hours of practice. On the weekends, she may practice for about five hours, come home, have lunch, then go back out for a quick drill session, she said. Sasai estimates that she shoots about 3,100 arrows per week, and documents many of her practice sessions on Instagram, @gabi365archery.
Sasai, who also lists among her interests hula dancing, playing the flute and saxophone, and drawing, is learning to cope with the positives and negatives that come with being an elite athlete. Part of her mental game, she said, is taking note of the small victories, such as a new personal record in practice or showing improvement against tough competition in tournaments.
Gabi Sasai competes during the mixed team event at the 2022 Archery World Cup on April 24, 2022 in Antalya, Turkey.
“And then there are the negatives,” she said. “A great example of that is that you can’t be on your ‘A’ game all the time. As much as I’d love to be on my ‘A’ game all the time, I know that’s just not realistic. When you’re a professional athlete and you have to struggle in front of the world, it’s quite a negative feeling and can put you in a negative space. But it’s something that happens to every athlete on the world level.”
The important thing during those times, she’s learned, is surrounding yourself with people who support you no matter what.
“When I’ve struggled in world cup tournaments I’ve been able to surround myself with great people such as (Germany’s) Katharina Bauer and (Colombia’s) Sara Lopez, who’ve shared their stories of struggle to help me get through it and know that I’m not alone and that I can overcome it,” said Sasai, who didn’t have a world ranking at this time last year but is now No. 79 in women’s recurve.
Another mentor has been four-time U.S. Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist Brady Ellison, with whom she partnered to win bronze in the recurve mixed team event at a world cup competition in Antalya, Turkey, in April 2022. It was Sasai’s first world cup competition.
“When we first started out in the day he was already pumping me up and trying to get me excited and keep me in the moment,” she said. “I fed off his energy. Even if he wasn’t having the greatest tournament of his life, I would have never known it because he was being so positive. And he knew it was my first time at a world cup and my first time shooting mixed teams, so he was making sure I understood everything.”
That included explaining to her how the clock worked when they made it to the finals.
“The commentators thought we were going over some sort of strategy, but it was actually me not knowing how the clock works, which is kind of important because I need to get those arrows off at the correct time so they’re not disqualified,” she said.
Sasai said that she continues to carry Ellison’s positivity and the confidence he tried to instill in her that day forward in her career.
She’s tried envisioning what it might look and feel like to realize her Olympic dream and compete on the world’s biggest stage.
“But what I learned after going to a world cup is that you don’t know the feeling until you’re there,” she said. “It’s just such a unique and different feeling. The feeling of representing your country, you kind of have to do it because until then you can’t say you know how it feels.”