Archer Casey Kaufhold Is An Olympian, No. 1 In The World And Still Just 19
by Bob Reinert
Casey Kaufhold showed everyone this year that it’s not about how you start but how you finish.
The 2020 Olympian recently strung together three straight top-four international finishes — including her first world cup in Paris — to ascend to World Archery’s No. 1 ranking in women’s recurve. The 19-year-old from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is the first American woman to reach the top of the recurve rankings since they were established in 2001.
“It’s been a goal of mine for a long time to be world No. 1,” said Kaufhold, who earned her world cup win in August in Paris. “So, to accomplish that at 19, it’s kind of crazy to think, but I’m super proud. It’s probably one of my biggest accomplishments.
“I see it more as like a steppingstone. Just because I’ve accomplished it now doesn’t mean it won’t still be a goal for the future. That ranking can change. I still see it as a goal to keep it.”
Kaufhold, who will take part in the Pan American Games Oct. 20-Nov. 5 in Santiago, Chile, didn’t look like a world-beater as the season began. She had been juggling training with academics as a freshman at Texas A&M University, where she posted a 4.0 grade-point average while studying animation.
“I had just come off my first year of college, and things were just kind of busy,” she said. “My first few competitions this season weren’t great. Usually, when you start a little rough you don’t picture yourself being world No. 1 by the end of the season.”
According to Kaufhold, things started to change for the better when she began working with a sports psychologist.
“I made a couple changes to my mental game,” Kaufhold said. “We talked a lot about what I’d been struggling with. I think I struggle with expectations the most.”
Kaufhold said she learned to focus more on herself, not worry about what other people think, and stay in the present.
“That’s one of the biggest things: staying present and not thinking about what I’ve done in the past — good or bad — or thinking about the future,” she said. “It’s all about what you’re doing right now, not about the past or the future.”
Kaufhold also came to appreciate the importance of achieving balance.
“I think the biggest thing that some athletes forget about is not only having a balanced training schedule, but a balanced life,” Kaufhold said. “And that’s something I learned a lot after my first year of school, that if life doesn’t feel in balance, the sport won’t feel in balance.”
With that in mind and the Olympic Games Paris 2024 less than a year away, she has stepped away from her studies.
“It was tough to find time to practice,” she said. “So, I’m taking this year off, just to focus on tournaments and all that travel and competing and such.”
Kaufhold also plans to apply lessons learned in her Olympic debut as a 17-year-old in Tokyo two years ago. She finished 17th in the individual event and eighth in the team competition.
“I wasn’t expecting the different pressure that comes along with the Olympic Games,” she said. “I just think I didn’t know how to prepare myself. But having that experience once and knowing what I can do different, I feel like I’ll be much more prepared for 2024 compared to 2020.”
Kaufhold comes from an archery family that stretches back to her great-grandfather on her father’s side. Both of her parents began shooting at an early age, and her father was an alternate on the U.S. team that ultimately boycotted the 1980 Olympics. Her brother also competes at Texas A&M.
“So, when my brother and I were young, we just started in the backyard for fun,” she said. “I started when I was 3, just shooting arrows into the grass, just to shoot a bow.”
Kaufhold is somewhat unique as a left-handed archer, but she sees no inherent advantage or disadvantage in that.
“Individually, there’s not much to it that would be different than a right-handed archer,” she said. “Team rounds can get a little different with a left-handed archer because you kind of rotate in a circle when you shoot. Most people, they are stepping off the line forwards, but I have to step off backwards because I’m facing the other way.
“Equipment is something that is a little tricky as a lefty. Most of the archery equipment out there is right-handed. Sometimes, the equipment availability is a little slim compared to right-handed.”
Though her vision is only 20/40, Kaufhold doesn’t wear glasses or contact lenses while she shoots, concerned that either would be a distraction.
“So, I choose not to shoot with any sort of glasses or contacts, even though my vision isn’t perfect,” she said. “It seems to still work out OK.”
To maintain her competitive edge, Kaufhold puts about 200 arrows a day on the target. That’s 1,400-1,500 a week.
“The plan is to keep shooting a high volume of arrows,” she said. “The biggest thing is just (repetition), doing the same thing over and over. I’ll be shooting a lot of arrows, doing a lot of drills that simulate pressure, and also just shooting a lot of competitions to stay in the competition mindset.”
The hope is to be ready for the Olympics in Paris next year. Having won the recent world cup there could give Kaufhold a leg up.
“That’s the stage that we’ll be shooting on at the Games next year,” Kaufhold said. “So, to have won a gold medal on that stage just a year before the Games, that gives me a lot of confidence that in a year’s time, I’ll just be getting better, and I think I’ll be really prepared.”